From the Bishops The Vocations Challenge

Each year, for 47 years now, on the Fourth Sunday of Easter (April 25 this year) Catholics throughout the world pray for vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. Each year, the Holy Father publishes a message for this World Day of Prayer for Vocations. This year’s message from Pope Benedict XVI is entitled "Witness Awakens Vocations."

Although priestly and religious vocations are primarily the initiative of God himself, the witness of those who have already accepted the call to the ministerial priesthood plays an indispensible role in encouraging vocations to the priesthood. When young men come to know priests who are happy, devout and filled with love for God and God’s people, they stir up in those young men a real desire to themselves respond to God’s call.

St John’s Gospel recounts the call of Jesus’ first disciples. When John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing at the Jordan, Jesus walked by. "Look!" cried John. "There is the Lamb of God! Immediately, two of John’s disciples began to follow Jesus. One of the men was Andrew. The other was probably John (the Evangelist) himself. When Jesus noticed the two following him, he asked them what they were looking for. ‘Rabbi, where do you stay?’ Jesus’ response was simple, direct, yet profound: ‘Come and see’" (cf. 1 Jn: 35-39).

Andrew and the other disciple were looking for something — or someone. They sought out John the Baptist, but then were immediately drawn to Jesus. They wanted to follow him, to be near him. Once they had encountered Jesus, they wanted to bring others to him. "The first thing [Andrew] did was seek out his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah!’" And Andrew brought his brother to meet Jesus (cf. Jn 1:41-42).

Soon after Andrew came to know Jesus (and then brought his brother Simon to meet him), Jesus invited Philip to follow him. Philip then sought out Nathaniel (also called Bartholomew). Nathaniel was skeptical, so Philip responded with Jesus’ own invitation: "Come, and see for yourself" (cf. Jn 1:43-46).

This is how priestly and religious vocations are nurtured — by the example and witness of priests and consecrated religious. The Holy Father explains in his message: "God’s free and gracious initiative encounters and challenges the human responsibility of all those who accept his invitation to become, through their own witness, the instruments of his divine call. This occurs in the Church even today: the Lord makes use of the witness of priests who are faithful to their mission in order to awaken new priestly and religious vocations for the service of the People of God."

Pope Benedict mentions three aspects of the life of a priest that he considers essential for an effective priestly witness. It is so important that I and my brother priests understand and live these three aspects of our vocations.

The first element — and it is fundamental — is friendship with Christ. The gospels are one in testifying to Jesus’ constant union with his Father. Jesus’ disciples longed for that same intimacy with God. They asked Jesus to teach them to pray, to commune with God just as Jesus did. A prayerful priest or religious is the first form of witness which awakens vocations.

Another element of the priesthood and religious life is the complete gift of oneself to God. Most young people are not looking for the easy way in life. They want to give themselves to something that requires that they give their all. A priest or consecrated religious who has given himself or herself completely to God is the priest or religious who can give himself or herself entirely to the service of God’s people. This is the witness that bears much fruit.

The third element mentioned in the pope’s message is a life of communion in love. A priest or religious filled with love for God and neighbor, one who is open to all and seeks to overcome divisions and to settle conflicts is a powerful witness. Pope Benedict recalled his words to the clergy of Aosta: "If young people see priests who appear distant and sad, they will hardly feel encouraged to follow their example. They will remain hesitant if they are led to think that this is the life of a priest. Instead, they need to see the example of a communion of life which can reveal to them the beauty of being a priest. Only then will a young man say, ‘Yes, this could be my future; I can live like this."

There is yet another witness, one not mentioned explicitly by the pope in his World Day of Prayer for Vocations message, but extremely important. That is the witness of family, especially parents. Parents who love God, who express love and respect for priests and religious, who encourage their children to consider a priestly or religious vocation make it possible for their children to fully and freely give themselves to God as priest or religious.

The Holy Father’s message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is addressed primarily to priests, but it is for every Catholic to pray for vocations and to encourage the young people in our care to listen prayerfully for God’s call.

This column originally appeared in the April 20, 2010 issue of The Colorado Catholic Herald and is reprinted with permission.

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