A few months ago, one of our parishioners approached me to share his observation that there was no prayer for vocations in the missalettes we use in Church. He wondered if we might get one inserted. I see now that a Prayer for Vocations has returned to the missalette’s cover. I am grateful for the return of the prayer, but I am also grateful for the care with which this gentleman raised the issue with me. He reminded me that there is a care for priestly vocations in our church, even if we oftentimes take it for granted. But it occurs to me that it is to our detriment as a church if we ever take church vocations for granted.
I have to confess that I am not a poster-child for the promotion of priestly vocations. I chose ordination as a path in my life almost a quarter century ago. The living of a priestly vocation has become a daily reality. I wake up in the morning and I get on with whatever the Lord puts before me for that day. I am uncomfortable thinking about it as anything special or radical. Many conversations about priestly vocations tend to move in that direction, and that makes me uncomfortable. For me, I am an ordinary man doing ordinary things. If there is any sense of the extraordinary in my efforts, I attribute that to the grace of Jesus Christ and the goodness of our heavenly Father.
I grew up in a time and a place where priesthood was a distinct option for me to make a difference in the world. My parents didn’t discourage it as an option, though I can’t say they encouraged it, either. I entered a seminary and joined a group of people who were also exploring what they might do with their life and were willing to consider priesthood as an option. It was there that I formed some of the most enduring friendships of my life. Today, my best friend serves as a priest in the Diocese of Port Elizabeth in South Africa. Other very good friends live and work a lot closer to me than that. While in seminary together, we shared the joys and sorrows, the triumphs and the pains of all that seminary formation brings academically, ministerially, pastorally, and humanly. It truly was one of the most blessed times of my life. That I studied for seven years to prepare me for a particular mission to priesthood far from my own home and family served to highlight that priestly service wasn’t a choice to be made lightly, nor to be entered upon without serious consideration. It was also a time in which making a life-choice was much more the norm than it seems to be today.
Last month I served as pall-bearer to a dear mentor and friend, Msgr. James Loughnane. I first met Jim when he was pastor at St. Joseph the Worker in Winnetka. He had returned to Ireland to bury his mother, and upon his return to California he stopped at All Hallows Seminary and there we met and had a conversation that led to his inviting me to visit him the following Summer. That was the simple beginning of my journey to Los Angeles, and to priestly service here. During his lifetime, Jim touched the lives of countless men, women and children, sharing with them something of the goodness of Jesus Christ and his faith in God, lived in service of the Church.
This Sunday marks the beginning of National Vocations Awareness Week in the Catholic Church of the United States. It is a good time for us to reflect on the many ways in which people serve among the People of God, with an emphasis on those ways in which men and women are called to lives of service as priests, brothers and sisters. We all have some part or role to play in supporting vocations within the community. If we are in the position where we are trying to discern how God might be calling us to make a difference in our lives, perhaps priesthood or religious life is worth consideration? Perhaps mar? Perhaps we feel called to single life? If we are raising children, perhaps we pray for the grace to be open to the possibility of a potential vocation to priesthood or religious life in our beloved? Perhaps we desire the grace to help them blossom fully into the life to which God calls them, even if we’re not sure what that looks like for ourselves? If we are at home now, having raised our families, perhaps we continue to hold our adult children in prayer for the fulfillment of their God-given calling in life?
Perhaps we might - all of us - pray for an outpouring of courage and openness in our families and amongst our fellow parishioners as we all continue to endeavor to discern and to live our vocations well. Vocation, whatever form it takes for us, is not to be taken for granted within the Church.