We wrapped up Vocations Week in the United States a few weeks ago. A quick search tells me Australia had its vocation awareness week back in August. Never mind! As with vocations themselves, it’s almost never too late.
On Sunday, our beloved pastor told a version of the story he often tells: He had already been through college, already had his own successful business, already owned his own home, and was fairly content with his life — until someone said to him, “Hey, have you ever thought of becoming a priest?”
He hadn’t. But after that, he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Eventually he joined the seminary (and found himself by far the oldest one there), took a year off, came back, was ordained, and is now one of the happiest men I have ever met. He is very clearly meant to be a priest. Thank God for the friend who asked him that simple question, “Have you ever thought of becoming a priest?”
I’ve talked to many, many priests. I once took a freelance assignment to edit biographies by seminarians. The bios were, as you can imagine, extremely varied, just as priests themselves are extremely varied). Some of them couldn’t think of a day when they didn’t want to be a priest. They used to play Mass from the time they were old enough to hoist a toy chalice, and they begged their mothers to bring them to church all week. Some of them had been lukewarm Catholics, had even left the Church, and only came back after much nagging and begging from teachers and friends, and suddenly got a dramatic sign from above. Some had been thinking of it off and on for years, and had a hard time pulling the trigger, but were so glad they did.
The one thing they all had in common: Someone had made the idea of being a priest seem reasonable. Someone had said, “Have you ever considered being a priest?” or “Wow, you sure look like you want to be a priest!” or “Face it. You’re gonna be a priest.” Someone had asked the question.
My pastor also spoke of another man he knew, who also had a thriving career and owned his own home. He also had a wife and family, whom he loved — but he also had regrets. He wished that he had become a priest. He wished that someone had asked him, suggested it to him, made the idea seem reasonable. He thinks it’s what he had actually been called to, but no one made the call loud enough for him to hear.
It’s common for Catholics to lament the dearth of vocations to the priesthood. We hate it when parishes must close because there aren’t enough warm bodies to go around. We hate it when we get “just a deacon” to baptize our kids or witness a wedding. We had it when confession is only half an hour once a week, and when father is too busy to answer our questions, deal with our problems, help us out. We hate that there simply aren’t enough priests to go around.
But what do we do to foster more priestly vocations? Do we make the idea seem reasonable to our sons, our brothers, our nephews, our friends? Do we mention it? Do we ask guys if the idea has occurred to them, and encourage them if they seem like they’re considering it? Or if they do mention it, do we take them seriously and help them take the next step?
There’s such a thing as pushing too hard, of course. Not all men are called to be priests, and it’s a terrible thing to try to force a vocation on someone who is meant for some other kind of life. But there is very little to lose by simply mentioning it.
And while you’re at it, mention it to the Lord. Add “for an increase in priestly vocations” to your daily petitions. If we want more priests, we really have to ask.