In Matthew’s Gospel (9:37-38), Jesus said to his disciples: “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few, so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” The work of evangelization is the task of all the baptized. However, the vocational call of the priest, deacon and religious is to serve and nurture the Church.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has indeed been blessed with a vocational environment. This is not true for all Catholic communities. I learned early on of the respect that the faithful have for those considering a vocation. It is not that everyone must be a priest, deacon or religious, but to be open to what God desires for their lives. It takes prayer and commitment.
Recently, the Saint Francis de Sales Seminary dinner held at the Wisconsin Center had significantly more than 2,000 people in attendance. One priest said to me that this dinner was one of the five most inspiring events he has attended in the 20 years of his priesthood. The spirit was electrifying, embodying the affection the community has for its priests and future priests.
The same is true for the permanent diaconate. Just a few weeks ago, I ordained 16 new deacons for service to the Church, men well-formed and supported by their wives. This was the largest class in decades. Certainly, a pastoral impact will be experienced by many of our parishes.
In the last few years, Fr. John Burns has been tasked with raising the awareness of women’s vocations to religious life. There have been an increasing number of young women who have entered religious life and a group who have expressed the desire to discern. The presence of religious orders of women will assist in ensuring the spiritual stability of the archdiocese for years to come. In its history, it was the religious communities of women that formed and fashioned the archdiocese. I know my predecessors would quickly attest to the contribution of those great religious women.
The renewals of the Church throughout the ages all began with responding to God’s vocational call. Therefore, to continue our renewal, we must create the environment and atmosphere necessary to hear the voice of God, which challenges men and women to respond to the Spirit that calls them. We must take an active role in the promotion of vocations.
My own vocational call was nurtured by the religious sisters who taught me in grammar school. They emphasized how important the role of service to God was through a commitment to the Church. I thought of myself as a normal child — a good student, I loved sports and was an altar server. I felt God calling me from an early age. But the vocational call is unique, and many of my classmates in the seminary received the call later in their life. One never feels adequate or worthy of the call, and it was family and friends who said they envisioned me in the priestly role who affirmed the call.
I cannot impress enough upon everyone just how important it is to share your thoughts about a young man or woman’s vocation. God uses you as an instrument to seek his laborers. In the simple statement that I think you would make a good priest, sister or deacon, you are inviting a person to listen to God’s voice.
It is interesting to hear vocational stories and how a person arrived at the decision to discern God’s call. Each vocational story is unique to the person. For some, it was the example and influence of a person in their life who may or may not have been a priest or religious; for others it was an event that triggered a need for a response to serve others; and for some, a constant spiritual growth of friendship with Jesus and his Church. There is no doubt the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of our young in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, which has experienced a growth in vocations and has become the envy of other dioceses. This has been due to the arduous work of the vocational directors over the past 20 years. This work is entrusted to the direction of Fr. John LoCoco.
The challenge for us as an archdiocese will be to maintain the vocational culture and grow its influence. I would offer that there are certain things that we can do to ensure that we will continue to do God’s will for his Church.
First, pray. I have said this numerous times — that one of the true characteristics to my amazement of the local Church was that I constantly experienced the rich faith life of the people of the archdiocese. We are all called to holiness, and the various pietistic movements present in the archdiocese helped to foster a direction that God is at the center of everything that we do. When we add a prayer for vocations to our daily routine, our attention is raised to the work of the Church that needs to be accomplished.
Second, be vocational promoters. I cannot think of a greater compliment that could be paid to a person than to tell them that you think you could see them as a priest, deacon or religious. The statement says there is something Christ-like in the person that cries out to be shared. Of course, it is God who ultimately calls the person, but expressing our insights eliminates the obstacles that at times diminish God’s voice.
Third is the financial support of the education and formation of those discerning a vocation. The success in numbers that we are experiencing currently in our history presents a problem. We need the resources necessary to house and educate those in discernment. All of our priests have benefited from the support received from our faithful in their seminary years. The Archdiocesan Capital Campaign, “Love One Another,” and the annual Catholic Stewardship Appeal include the seminary in their distributions. Making the resources available to those discerning will keep our programs strong and accessible for years to come.
Our society needs the pastoral care that vocations will provide. The harvest is there waiting for the laborers; let us do our part by praying, promoting and supporting vocations.