Awareness week invites us to pray for vocations Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011 -- 1:00 AM

We celebrate National Vocation Awareness Week this year January 9 through 15. Appropriately, the week begins with the feast of the Baptism of Jesus.

During this week we are encouraged to deepen our friendship with God as we reflect upon our own vocation. We are also reminded to foster and pray for vocations to all states of life. Because of the present need, the Church especially encourages us to pray for and support vocations to priesthood and religious life.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI declared a “Year for Priests” in order to encourage Christ-like spiritual perfection in priests. During the year, he named St. Jean Marie Vianney as patron saint of all priests.

Christ-like example

Father Vianney transformed the parish of Ars, France, simply by being a good priest. (I think the desire to be a good priest is in every priest’s heart.) His Christ-like example inspires seminarians, priests, religious, and laity to grow in holiness and deepen their faith.

Pope Benedict XVI said that Father Vianney believed that the fervor of a priest’s life depends entirely upon the Mass. When celebrating Mass, he offered his life to God in sacrifice. Copies of his inspiring sermons still exist.

A vocation begins when the person desires God more than anything else. Eucharistic Adoration, concern for souls, and the gift of reading hearts made him an exceptional confessor. He spent up to 16 hours a day in the confessional. According to Bishop Thomas Olmstead, for years 100’s of pilgrims flocked each day to Ars to encounter Christ through him and receive forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. So many pilgrims came that more railway cars were added. Father Vianney said, “It is not the sinner who returns to God to beg his forgiveness, but God himself who runs after the sinner and makes him return to him”.

His parishioners often saw him pray before the Blessed Sacrament as though he saw Someone. (I believe that he saw God through the eyes of faith). When pilgrims were asked who they saw at Ars, many repeated the words of the man who testified, “I saw God, in a man.”

Priests and the sacraments

During the Year for Priests, Pope Benedict XVI stressed that without priests there would be no Eucharist, no mission, or the Church. In no. 1552 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says “the ministerial priesthood has the task not only of representing Christ — Head of the Church — before the assembly of the faithful, but also of acting in the name of the whole church when presenting to God the prayer of the church and above all when offering the Eucharistic sacrifice.”

Priests minister to us at key spiritual moments. They administer the sacraments, preach, and offer pastoral care. They preside at First Communions, marriages, Baptisms, anniversaries, and funerals. They teach, visit the sick, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, and pray for the living and dead.

Fostering priestly vocations

Lay persons, nuns, deacons, and Brothers help to foster priestly vocations. Their prayers and support also help us priests to persevere and serve the Church. But priests have a crucial role. Year after year in surveys, 80 to 88 percent of the priests interviewed consistently report that a priest invited them to consider priesthood.

Once at a meeting of 13 priests at Holy Ghost in Dickeyville, the diocesan vocation director asked us to share who influenced us most in our vocation choice. Over half of the priests named Msgr. Ewald Beck, former pastor of St. Mary’s in Janesville. He had the gift of encouraging vocations. God gives each priest the same gift. We must use it.

A vocation is a unique call from God and a mystery of grace. Sometimes God calls the least likely to be priests. I am one of these. If you are a single young or older man and think that God is calling you to priesthood, please talk with a priest, bishop, religion teacher, diocesan vocation director, or attend a vocation discernment weekend. Christ may be calling you because he needs you. We need you, too.

Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus of the Diocese of Madison.