HOMILY: Just ask: Ways to nurture vocations
SEVERAL YEARS AGO I read an article in a Catholic newspaper in which the author told a story about a college student whom he felt might have a vocation to the priesthood. He talked to the young man and asked whether he had ever considered becoming a priest. When the young man said no, the author asked why. The young man's simple reply: "Nobody ever asked me." After that, the young man began to explore the idea and later entered a community of religious men.
This story underscores the importance of inviting young people to consider a vocation beyond our baptismal call to follow the Good Shepherd and proclaim his gospel. It is up to all of us to nurture vocations by encouraging young people to consider ordained ministry and consecrated life, such as life as a religious brother or sister. Giving a young person this kind of prompting and feedback will help them see themselves in a different light. Too often a person feels he or she is not worthy or good enough to become a priest, sister, or brother. Somehow they think a person has to be perfect or that only holy people— certainly not they—are called to religious life. It is not a matter of worthiness or unworthiness. It is a matter of God’s will is for them.
All of us can and should pray for vocations, but that is not enough. Vocations must be explained and promoted. Two significant places where this happens are the family and the parish. Every Catholic shares the responsibility to encourage young men and women to at least think about the possibility that God might be calling some of them to give their lives to Christ and to the building of the kingdom of God in this way.
The Letter of John tells us that the reason the world does not know us Christians is because they do not know Christ. Each Christian must proclaim Christ, but God chooses some men and women to work “full time” to make him known. Some of these chosen ones might be right here in our parish. Maybe they have not yet discovered their call.
In the past many children had religious brothers and sisters as teachers in parochial schools or in their religious education classes and were somewhat familiar with their lifestyle. They also knew the parish priests better. Many parishes had more than one priest who shared pastoral duties and had more time to talk with parishioners. These priests and religious sisters and brothers provided role models. Today, on the contrary, many of our young people have little or no idea about the life and ministry of members of religious communities.
Education about religious life is necessary because many young people’s only knowledge of this life is the sometimes poor characterization, especially of sisters, on television or in the movies. One thing each of us in the parish might do is to be aware of the potential vocations among our young people. If we encounter young women or men who participate in the Mass regularly, are service-oriented, strongly involved in parish life, and have the qualities of a sister or a priest, mentioning your observations can make a big difference. It is likely that they have thought about a possible vocation and your comments might inspire them and help them in their discernment.
In his message for the 49th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Pope Benedict says, “It is my hope that the local churches will become places where vocations are carefully discerned and their authenticity tested, places where young men and women are offered wise and strong spiritual direction.”
Today, especially, on World Day of Prayer for Vocations, also know as Good Shepherd Sunday, let us pray to our Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for us, to inspire young people to follow the call of service in the church.
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