For local vocations, let’s think of this as mission territory

By | January 5, 2011

Oftentimes, when we think of missionaries, we think of people who leave their homes and serve in faraway lands. A missionary vocation is a noble and challenging life, but now I realize that it does not always mean traveling to faraway lands.

Let us not forget that we need missionary priests and sisters right here in our own diocese. Let us not forget that we are called to be missionary people right here and right now. Our country began as a mission country, and our diocese began as mission territory. In truth, we should never have stopped seeing ourselves as that — missionary.

Our humble roots were laid by a few Jesuits (and others), forging through the woods and building small churches. They did not have enough priests either, but their mindset was completely different than ours. For them, all was gift. Nothing was taken for granted or demanded. Sacrifice was at the core of what they did. The people learned their faith and the stories of the saints and waited months for the next opportunity to receive the sacraments.

For just a moment now, let’s pretend we are back in those early days. I would like you to peer into a literary snapshot of the Old West, where a priest is working among Pima Indian natives. If you really want to picture the scene, then read Willa Cather’s book “Death Comes for the Archbishop.” In the New Mexico territory, there were hundreds of Catholic converts living in small villages at least 50 miles apart. Some villages were lucky enough to have a church building. The priest would ride on a horse for many weeks just to visit one such village.

“Down near Tucson, a Pima Indian convert once asked me to go off into the desert with him, as he had something to show me. … We descended into a terrifying canyon of black rock, and there in the depths of the cave, he showed me a golden chalice, vestments and cruets, all the paraphernalia for celebrating Mass. His ancestors had hidden these sacred objects there when the mission was sacked by Apaches, he did not know how many generations ago. The secret had been handed down by his family, and I was the first priest who had ever come to restore to God his own” (“Death Comes to the Archbishop,” p. 207).

My brothers and sisters, we must become more missionary in our approach to vocations. Our ancestors sometimes waited years for the next priest to show up and celebrate Mass. They knew deeply that the Eucharist was their greatest treasure.

If you had no priest this weekend, would you wait until next weekend? Would you drive to the next town to find the Eucharist? Would you safeguard the church’s treasures? Or would you quickly become slaves to an on-demand culture?

Some people want me, as diocesan Vocation Director, to come up with creative ways to solve the shortage of priests and sisters. Some even ask me if we should change the church’s teachings; this is not possible. Let’s not get creative; let’s get missionary.

I have visited numerous places where the children do not know the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be and the Act of Contrition. If we want vocations of all types, we must first teach the children to pray. This was the simple message of Mary to Adele Brise right here in our own missionary territory near the town of Champion back in 1859.

We must also focus on the identifying marks of Catholicism: Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation and scriptural preaching. These remind us of our identity and bring us back to our missionary roots. Then I know young people will hear God’s call.

As priestly vocations have struggled over the last 20 years, our priests have taken up their “horses” and started to ride to different parishes. Yes, I feel like a missionary priest, driving 30,000 miles this year alone.

The question is, “Are you missionary?” Christ is looking for missionaries to serve right here in the Green Bay Diocese. We are “sent” on a mission from the “Mass” we celebrate.

For more information on vocations, contact Fr. Schuster at 1-877-500-3580, ext. 8293, or visit the vocations page at the diocesan Web site.

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