Bishop Banks' Corner|
|Bishop Robert J. Banks
We need more than prayer alone
Raising up new vocations for church takes work on everyone's part
By Bishop Robert Banks
This column is two weeks late. I should have written about prayer
for priestly vocations back then, rather than now. But better
late than never.
Two Sundays ago (May 6) was designated by Pope John Paul II as
the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Catholics all over the
world were encouraged to pray for an increase of vocations to the
priesthood and religious life. At each Mass on that Sunday,
petitions for an increase of vocations were inserted into the
Prayer of the Faithful.
Our Diocese has been way ahead on that kind of prayer. At least
three years ago, all parishes were asked to include a petition
for the increase of vocations to the priesthood and religious
life into the Prayer of the Faithful at every Sunday Mass
throughout the year. There might be one parish where it has not
happened, since I received a letter from one concerned woman who
suggested that I should order all our parishes to have such a
prayer. Apparently she had spent some time in a Florida diocese
this winter, where such prayer had been mandated.
A number of parishes in our Diocese have done a good deal more
than inserting a petition about vocations into the Prayers of the
Faithful. Some have a monthly holy hour specifically for that
intention, and I know that priestly and religious vocations are
made a top concern at those few places where we have Perpetual
Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
Not by prayer alone
The insistence on prayer for vocations can be deceptive. It can
make it seem that the secret of promoting vocations to the
priesthood and religious life is prayer alone - prayer that will
inspire young men and women to think about those vocations.
Prayer for vocations is essential. Jesus told us to pray that
laborers be sent into the vineyard, and that would certainly
include priests and religious. But I would make two observations
about prayer for vocations.
First, perhaps the prayer for vocations should focus not only on
potential candidates for priesthood and religious life, but also
on those who have traditionally encouraged such vocations. In
other words, we should pray that Catholic families, and
especially mothers, should be more encouraging of such vocations.
Back in the days when vocations to priesthood were more numerous,
a worry commonly expressed was that some boys and young men would
go to the seminary to please their mothers. In fact, there was
concern that some mothers might put too much pressure on their
sons to become priests.
Those days are over. And, as usual, one problem being solved only
makes room for a new problem. Today's problem seems to be that
parents, including mothers, will more often discourage a son from
thinking of priesthood. That came to my mind a couple of weeks
ago. One of our pastors was thinking of inviting a young man, a
high school senior, to one of the Project Andrew dinners at my
home. (These dinners are an occasion for young fellows who would
make good candidates for priesthood to learn something about
priesthood. There is no pressure and most of the high school
seniors who come have already signed up to prepare in college for
another kind of career.) The mother asked the priest not to even
mention the subject to her son.
Wanting the best
The changed attitude among many mothers is understandable. They
want the best for their sons and daughters. Fifty years ago, the
best included priesthood and religious life along with other
vocations and professions. In today's very secular culture, and
after all that has happened to priesthood and religious life,
such vocations are naturally less attractive and definitely more
risky. Besides, you do not have to be a priest or member of a
religious community in order to be a harvester in the Lord's
vineyard. So a mother has to have a great deal of faith before
she can enthusiastically encourage her son or daughter to take on
a risky life that is focused solely on the Lord and service to
Another group that traditionally encouraged likely candidates to
think of priesthood or religious life was the teachers in our
Catholic schools and parish religious education programs. Since
many of those teachers were themselves members of religious
communities, they could speak from experience and with
enthusiasm. And parents were open to their encouraging children
to think of priesthood and religious life. Almost all the
teachers in our educational programs now are married lay persons
who have another kind of experience and who do not have the
implicit permission of parents to encourage the children to think
of priesthood and religious life.
Our prayer for vocations, therefore, has to be a prayer that
parents be more open and trusting to the possibility that
priesthood and religious life can be wonderful vocations for
their children. Vocation prayer also has to include those
involved in our educational programs, praying that they be sure
to present the possibility of religious vocations and to invite
priests, sisters and brothers to talk about celibate life in the
service of the Lord.
Every vocation is religious
Lest I be misunderstood, I recognize that every vocation is by
definition a religious vocation. Every person who sees their way
of life - married or single, in business or in the trades or in
the professions - as a response to God's call is living a
religious vocation. Religious vocation also obviously includes
the many other persons who are deeply involved in the ministry of
the Church, whether as ordained deacons or baptized lay persons.
That brings me to the second observation I would make about
prayer for vocations. Prayer is not enough. All of us have to
hold up and enthusiastically support in faith those vocations by
which God calls some to imitate Jesus more closely in a way of
life and service that includes celibacy and even poverty and
obedience. To embrace such a vocation - a vocation that
surrenders the possibility of married love and children, that
minimizes career advancement, that challenges the secularism of
modern culture - is a courageous act of faith. To respect,
support and encourage such vocations is also today a tremendous
act of faith.
For all those who feel left out because I focused so much on
vocations to priesthood and religious life rather than their
particular vocation, please notice that I also said nothing about
the vocation to the office of bishop.