Encouraging vocations is God’s business – and ours, too

By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald Commentary

Nov. 3-9 is National Vocations Awareness Week in the U.S. You’ve frequently reminded Catholics not only to pray for vocations but also to take a more active role by posing the question to someone whom they consider might have the qualities for a vocation to the priesthood, diaconate or religious life.

Yes. If we see someone who is active in the church and seems to really value Christ and the church, why not ask them if they’ve ever considered a call to leadership in the church. You could say, “Have you ever thought about becoming a priest? Have you ever thought about becoming a sister or a brother and allow God to use you?” The worst anyone can say is “no” or that they’ve never thought about it, but at least the question has been asked and, perhaps, a seed has been planted. At the recent Catholic Community Foundation dinner, Peter Quirk, who received the St. John Paul II Award, told a story about just that. He was a member of his high school football team, and his coach had a lot of qualities that Peter associated with the priesthood. Peter asked him, “Coach, why did you never become a priest?” And the coach told him, “Because nobody asked me.”

Is that personal invitation important?

Yes it is. When I interview prospective seminarians, somewhere in their story is always the name of the person who helped to make them more attentive to God’s call. For a person to enter into the seminary or into the novitiate doesn’t mean they’re going to necessarily follow through, but their decision to discern a vocation gives God the opportunity to work in them and provides them the opportunity to give this more serious thought.

Was there someone in your life who did that for you?

Yes, there were several priests at St. James Major who encouraged me, and there were the Mount Carmel Sisters, who taught at the school, who raised the question with me and gave me a great example.

You’ve talked in the past about your sadness when you hear that sometimes seminarians or novices are discouraged by their parents in pursuing a possible vocation.

I continue to be amazed – and sometimes shocked – at how parents can discourage their son or daughter from thinking about the priesthood or religious life. We don’t want any parent to be an obstacle to a young man or a young woman. Or a not-so-young man or a not-so-young woman. It is a true joy when I find out that parents wholeheartedly embrace this possible vocational call.

How are vocations doing in the Archdiocese of New Orleans?

Quite well. We have a very good vocation director, Father Colm Cahill. He’s very active and very much out in the community, allowing God to use him to awaken vocations to the priesthood and to consecrated life for women and men. Several women religious within our archdiocese also work toward awakening vocations. But, we’re all vocation directors, and God can use any of us, and very often uses the laity to invite a woman or man to think about leadership in the church.

The church has been through a lot of challenges lately. Has that impacted vocations in any way?

Some of the men and women who come forward have seen the challenges and sometimes the divisions in the church. But the fallout from some of the abuse issues is that they want to make a difference, and they feel like they have something to contribute to make a difference and lead others to Christ.

You’ve also talked often about how impressed you are with the quality of seminarians, both at St. Joseph Seminary College and Notre Dame Seminary.

Both of our seminaries are crowded – in a good sense – and the number of seminarians is never the main criteria. The quality of these men is outstanding. Notre Dame has 146 seminarians, and St. Ben’s has 123. We’re blessed to have two seminaries in our dioceses. Many dioceses don’t have any. We also have three young women from the archdiocese who went to a novitiate this past year. We also have a consecrated virgin in our archdiocese and one in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. We believe there are others who are being called to priesthood and religious life and also to a consecrated life of virginity. We want to be supportive of them and to help them answer God’s call.

What can you tell men and women who are considering a possible vocation?

As Catholics, we firmly believe that God has a plan for our lives. He calls some to marriage, some to the priesthood, some to religious life, some to the single life and to consecrated virginity. Teaching young people how to discern God’s call is a weighty responsibility, but it is also one that is filled with joy. I would ask Catholics this week to intentionally pray about how God is calling you to live your vocation more deeply. Encourage the young people in your life – children, grandchildren, students and friends – to be open to whatever God is calling them to do in life. Pray aloud that your children will follow Jesus and remain open to holy marriage, priesthood and consecrated life.

Questions for Archbishop Gregory Aymond may be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.

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