MANITOWOC — Fr. Brett Brannen quipped that he was able to get away from his day job to speak at the 2021 Diocese of Green Bay Clergy Congress. The Louisiana native, who grew up in Georgia, serves as spiritual director at Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.
“Promoting Vocations and Worship Jesus” was the theme of the congress, held Oct. 4-6 at the Holiday Inn in Manitowoc. Fr. Brannen, the author of two books, “To Save a Thousand Souls: A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood” and “A Priest in the Family: A Guide for Parents Whose Sons are Considering the Priesthood,” gave four talks about vocations over the first two days. He spoke about how priests should promote vocations and how becoming the priest you should be will help promote vocations.
Offer a strong altar server program
Some of the practical suggestions that Fr. Brannen offered, included having a strong altar server program because the statistics of priests who were once altar servers is high. He also encouraged starting a parish vocations committee.
“They run it. There is a new book about how to start this (“Hundredfold: A Guide to Parish Vocation Ministry” by Rhonda Gruenewald),” he said. “In every faith formation class and in our Catholic schools, make sure someone is talking to the children about vocations.”
Fr. Brannen spoke about the effectiveness of the Melchizedek Project, an initiative where small discernment groups are formed to provide information and support for young men considering a call to priesthood.
Every vocation has four ‘i’s’
In an interview with The Compass, Fr. Brannen said that the diocese is “absolutely on the right track with all the things you’re doing,” referencing the Kairos Year and Fiat Prayer Society as examples. He shared that every vocation has four “I’s” — inspiration, invitation, information and intimacy with Jesus.
“We are inspired by seeing the priest say Mass, go to the hospital,” he said. “The young person sees that and thinks about being a priest.”
The invitation may be made by anyone, but the priest must take an active role in this step, explained Fr. Brannen.
“When the priest sits down with the young man and says, ‘I’ve been watching you. You’re devout. You’re a fine young man. If God were to call you to be a priest, you would be a good one. Would you please pray about it? I will help you discern.’ Now that’s not too much pressure. It’s an invitation.”
Provide books and pamphlets to read
Give young men books and pamphlets to read to provide information, he added.
“You have to bring people to intimacy with Jesus. Once they know him and talk with him, they will know what to do,” said Fr. Brannen, referring to the fourth “I.”
Fr. Brannen acknowledged that he didn’t stand out as a Catholic priest candidate growing up. He is the son of a Baptist father and a Catholic mother and did not attend Catholic school.
“The Holy Spirit can call anyone,” he said. “I had a guy come to me one day and say, ‘I think God wants me to be a priest, but I’m not Catholic.’ ‘What? How can this be?’ I said. ‘Well Father, I saw this thing on TV and looked it up online.’”
Fr. Brannen suggested that the young man learn basic catechesis and decide if he wanted to become a Catholic.
“Doggone it, if he didn’t go through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), become a Catholic and ended up going to seminary,” said Fr. Brannen with a laugh. “He knew he was called to be a priest before he was called to be a Catholic.”
Avoid the word ‘busy’
In his fourth vocation talk, Fr. Brannen told the story about a deacon who told his parish priest that he discouraged his son from considering the priesthood. He had witnessed the priest’s busy schedule and did not see him express any joy in his ministry. Fr. Brannen encouraged the priests at the congress to take the word “busy” out of their vocabularies.
“A big part of what I try to do is to help the priests live more balanced lives,” he told The Compass. “I want them to flourish. God doesn’t want us to survive. He wants us to thrive. We can do that as priests, even with our three parishes.”
Fr. Brannen said that it’s important for priests to spend sufficient time with Jesus before going to the office in the morning.
“Celebrate holy Mass with the people. Then you can do other things,” he said. “You will know what to do because you’ve prayed.
“Are you exercising every day? Are you taking a day off? Do you have a spiritual director? Do things that are fun,” he added. “God wants us to enjoy life. It’s not all work.”
Healthy ways to engage people
During a question-and-answer segment, Fr. Brannen was asked about healthy ways to engage people where they are in their lives, instead of expecting people to come to the priest.
“We have to earn the right to be heard,” he said. “Go to ball games. ‘I have so much going on, do I really have time to go to a fourth grade football game?’ Your attendance there changes the relationship with kids.”
Fr. Brannen’s experience giving retreats for young men and teaching led to his book, “Save a Thousand Souls.” “A Priest in the Family” developed from a conversation he had with the father of an ordained priest who was constantly being asked questions by parents of prospective priests.
“He said, ‘Would you consider writing a book for parents?’ I prayed about it and the Holy Spirit delivered,” he said. “I explored the questions of parents who are worried about their sons. That book was designed to give them peace and knowledge.”
Does Fr. Brannen plan on writing a third vocations book?
“I’ve been praying about writing a book, but the Holy Spirit has not given me the green light,” he said. “I thought about writing a book for new priests. I’m thinking about calling it ‘Fifth Theology.’ It’s now up to the Holy Spirit.”
Vianney Vocations published Fr. Brannen’s books. For more information, visit vianneyvocations.com.