Since getting involved in vocations work earlier this year, I occasionally get asked the question, “What can I do to help?” phrased in one way or another. I love this question because it means someone is motivated and willing to be of assistance to the cause of vocations promotion. There is a plethora of ways to answer, but I wish only to write of two areas in which those people willing to help, at the most local level, can do something and get involved in the vocations cause.
The most local unit for any vocations work to be done is in the family. A strong Church is composed of strong families. What fundamentally and practically can Catholic families, especially in the Diocese of Fall River, do to foster and encourage vocations in the home? First, one cannot ever discount the abundant power that comes through prayer. Remember, if we believe that a vocation is a call from God, then it only follows that He be the first One to be consulted. Certainly regular prayer as a family will build strength and encourage that good habit. Additionally, I urge parents and grandparents to pray for their children and their vocation individually, especially that the child will hear and answer the call of God and respond in kind. Maybe families could “adopt” a seminarian in prayer, or even pray by name for the priests, deacons, or religious Sisters at their parish. When I was in seminary and even now as a priest, I always appreciate getting letters from families supporting me and encouraging me with assurance of prayers.
Some might find it interesting that in a study of recently-ordained priests, family members have been identified at times as those most discouraging towards their vocation. Understandably, one can see why families would have many questions of someone giving their life as a religious Sister or Brother or as a priest. A life of total surrender to God as a priest or consecrated religious is radical and out of the ordinary. Maybe some parents see a life lived for God as something that couldn’t possibly make people happy or result in anything productive for society (Actually, “Forbes” magazine has reported for several years in the United States that clergy are the happiest with their jobs). However, questions and discouragement are not equal. Children may have questions of their parents about their vocation. Parents may question their child’s vocation. Questions are to be expected, and there are many resources to try and answer them.
As a family, it would be important to make every effort to attend Mass together. Participation at Sunday Mass in the parish is not only foundational for our life as Christians, but for those discerning God’s Will it will facilitate a necessary encounter with the living God Who calls people forth to serve from these very parishes and families.
The parish is the second area in which I want to focus on answering, “What can I do?” The parish, a large family composed of many families, has the potential to be a powerhouse of vocations if families have prayer and encouragement going on in their homes. Here in the Diocese of Fall River, every parish has been asked by the bishop to form a vocations prayer team. If you’re interested, ask your parish priest and join this group! Having a stable group that can encourage people in parishes in their vocations or discernment is a blessing. Hopefully it can give a more personal approach to inviting people to consider a vocation. It is not to be pushy, but friendly and kind, in complimenting a young member of the parish that they could be a great priest or religious Sister.
What else could parishes do? Parishes can host Vocations Holy Hours and have the Vocation directors or seminarians visit and speak. Additionally, parishes can organize trips or buses for parishioners to come to the diocesan ordinations or holy hours, like the one that is happening this Sunday at 3 p.m. in the Cathedral with Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V. Parishes, especially parishes with schools, could organize trips with youth to visit a seminary or a convent. My brother priests could from time to time preach about vocations, or even better, tell their own vocation stories and how they were called to be priests. About 80 percent of the priests ordained in the U.S. in 2015 reported having been altar servers in their parish. Parishes can support and encourage their Mass servers and even identify potential candidates from among their ranks. Parishes with high school-aged parishioners could encourage attendance at the summer Quo Vadis or Called By Name retreats for young men and women respectively.
What can I do? The answer is a lot! This column is but a small sample of the many things that families and parishes can begin to do to foster a culture of vocations. Remember the answer to, “What can I do?” involves us actually doing something, discount neither the power of prayer nor the power of a personal approach and invitation.
Father Peschel is associate director of Vocations and Seminarians for the Diocesan Vocations Board, a parochial vicar at St. Pius X Parish in South Yarmouth, and chaplain at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis.