Fifty-eight years ago, as the Second Vatican Council was underway, Pope Paul VI called for an annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations to be observed on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, commonly called Good Shepherd Sunday.
In 1963, there was not yet what we have come to know as the “vocation crisis.” Priests and consecrated religious were still abundant in number. But that would not be the case for long. Within a decade, the numbers of priests and religious began to decrease, in some cases precipitously.
Paul VI’s plea for prayers for vocations was not then a reaction to a crisis. Rather, it was a response to Christ’s own invitation to pray. Having gone around to all the town and villages, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for the crowds because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:35-38).
As I travel around the diocese visiting parishes, there is no more welcome greeting that I can get than “Thank you, Bishop, for sending us our priest.” Yes, our Catholic faithful love their priests. Why? Because priests make Jesus Christ present in the many and diverse events that arise in the lives of the faithful.
Priests have the joy and privilege of baptizing infants and adults, and so making them members of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church. Priests have the awesome and humbling ability to forgive sins, thus reconciling penitents with God and with the Church. Priests have the joyous obligation of preparing couples for marriage, a ministry needed more than ever at this time when the very meaning of marriage and family life is under attack. Priests have a special opportunity to contribute to the religious formation of children and young people, preparing them to receive the sacraments and helping them to discern their vocations. But above all, priests have the singular and wondrous power to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The Eucharist, as we know, is the source and summit of the entire Christian life. The Eucharist supports and sustains every vocation, not only the priest’s, but also the vocations to the married life, to the single life and to the consecrated life. Without the Eucharist, there is no Church. And without priests, there is no Eucharist.
April 25 is Good Shepherd Sunday, World Day of Prayer for Vocations. I urge every Catholic to pray in a very special way that God will continue to send men and women to serve him and the Church as priests and consecrated religious. Prayer for vocations is the obligation of every Catholic, not only priests and religious. St. John Paul II, in his magnificent Apostolic Exhortation on priestly formation, “Pastores Dabo Vobis” [I Will Give You Shepherds] wrote: “The priestly vocation is a gift from God. It is undoubtedly a great good for the person who is its first recipient. But it is also a gift to the Church as a whole, a benefit to her life and mission. The Church, therefore, is called to safeguard this gift, to esteem it and love it. She is responsible for the birth and development of priestly vocations . . . There is an urgent need, especially nowadays, for a more widespread and deeply felt conviction that all the members of the Church, without exception, have the grace and responsibility to look after vocations” (chap. IV).
In the Diocese of Colorado Springs, our prayers for vocations have been answered in abundance. Currently we have 13 men preparing for ordination to the priesthood. Many of those prayers came from the members of our Serra Club. These dedicated man and women devote themselves in an admirable way to praying for vocations, not only to the priesthood, but also to the diaconate and consecrated life.
I invite all those who are willing to devote some prayer and other acts of encouragement for our seminarians to consider joining the Serra Club. Information can be found in every issue of The Colorado Catholic Herald, or you can go our diocesan website, www.diocs.org/About/Vocations/Serra-Club. You may also call Esperanza Griffith in my office at 719-866-6486.
May God continue to give us many holy seminarians and priests.