The death of a young priest; the gift of vocations

You had the difficult duty of celebrating the funeral Mass last week for Father John Arnone, who died at the age of 49. What were your feelings?
I was sad to lose such a young and dedicated priest. I felt grief. We certainly thank God for the gift that Father John was to us and to the church during his 17 years as a priest. So many of us, especially his wonderful parents and family, are grieving over his loss at such a young age. It was easy for me to say to everyone who attended the Funeral Mass, “Follow the example of Father John Arnone,” 

because he certainly followed the example of Christ, who was the Good Shepherd. Father John served in parish ministry, and when I asked him to serve on the faculty of Notre Dame Seminary last year, he wondered if I was asking the right person. I assured him that his pastoral experience, his compassionate heart and his love for God’s people more than qualified him to serve on the seminary faculty, especially in the area of pastoral formation. As I mentioned in the funeral homily, we come away with so many questions. He was so young. He was such a dedicated priest. Why him? Why now? Those kinds of questions are not answerable in this life. What we do know is that God is faithful. God’s ways are not our ways. One of the mysteries of life that we remember at this moment is that some people can do more good for God through their death than by remaining on earth to work.
You mentioned St. Therese of Lisieux in your homily.
When John died, I thought of the quote from St. Therese: “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.” Yes, we have lost a valued priest. My own story with John goes back to when he was a student at St. Joseph Seminary College. I was rector when he entered Notre Dame Seminary. I vividly remember his years there and his ordination to the priesthood in 1999. I thank God for him, for his ministry and for the example he has been to so many people. He was very committed to building a fraternity of priests. It’s easy for me to say to a young man, follow the example of Father Arnone.
You do have many men who are studying for the priesthood, and you will ordain four men this Saturday (May 20) to the transitional diaconate for the archdiocese.
We are very blessed that this weekend I had the privilege of ordaining four men as transitional deacons, and on June 3, I will ordain five men as priests for the archdiocese. We are blessed in the Archdiocese of New Orleans because at the present time we have 43 men who are discerning in the seminary. I know them personally and have had the opportunity to participate in their seminary evaluations. They are men of faith and integrity. They have a great love for Christ and for the ministry of the church. It’s interesting to know that both of our seminaries – St. Joseph Seminary College and Notre Dame Seminary – have more than 130 students. They represent many dioceses in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast and beyond. All that being said, the question remains: Who else in our local church is God calling to the priesthood, to the diaconate and to religious life as a sister or brother? All of us must pray for vocations. For a young person today, when they first sense God’s call, it can be very disturbing, and it can be very difficult to say yes because of peer pressure and sometimes a lack of support from parents, family and friends. Nonetheless, our prayers for them help them to hear the Lord Jesus say, “Come, follow me, and do not be afraid.” Not only should we pray for vocations, but I also invite and challenge us that when we see a young person whom we admire because of their faith, why not simply ask them, “Have you thought about the priesthood or religious life?” In speaking with our seminarians and prospective seminarians, each of them has a story about someone asking them if they had thought about priesthood. There is no doubt that God uses these questions to move our hearts and perhaps to awaken a vocation – the call that God has planted.
Last week you also held the annual vocational day, “Calling All Fifth Graders,” where you discuss this very thing.
It’s a great opportunity for us to meet with the very young church and to help them grow in understanding of the meaning of a vocation and to at least think about whether God may have given them the gifts to respond with a yes. Please join me in praying for vocations and in fostering vocations. Also, may I suggest that it is helpful for the people of God to express sincere, heartfelt gratitude to a priest for answering God’s call and for serving in their parish or specialized ministry.
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