John Stather makes a simple plea that members of the Church heed the call of God and consider the possibility of a vocation including for men a vocation to the ministerial priesthood
St Therese, as she entered the convent in Lisieux, said that all she wanted to accomplish was ‘to save souls and pray for priests’. The World Day of Prayer for Vocations is celebrated on Sunday 13 April 2008, which has also been designated as Vocations Sunday by the Church of England.
There is a lot of talk from Ministry Division down about vocations. A phrase one often hears is ‘praying for more vocations’, but I believe that this rather misses the point. God does not need reminding that he needs more priests for his Church. Rather what we are called to do is to pray that more of our young men, and also our older men, will respond to God’s call. Vocations are there, have always been so in the past, and will be so in the future. Instead we need to focus our energy on praying for the recognition of the call.
In the First Book of Samuel, we hear of the call of the boy Samuel. Samuel hears a voice calling him, but he does not realize from whom it comes. Samuel speaks to Eli, and when he initially responds, Eli also fails to realize the source of the vocation. Only on the third occasion does he advise Samuel to reply to the voice, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening’ [1 Sam. 3.9].
Listening, therefore, is the important element. Only through our reading of the Scriptures, participation in the Mass, and through prayer can we engage with and listen to God. It is through the conversation of prayer and study of his Word that we listen to God, and are moved to action by the Holy Spirit.
The Church of England has done a lot of work with regard to stewardship recently, and one of the most popular schemes at the moment is TRIO – The Responsibility Is Ours. This is also true for vocations work. We are all in it together, and have a responsibility to take vocations seriously.
It is certainly the responsibility of parish clergy to preach and teach about vocations, and to encourage those exploring their vocations. Parish priests know what is required of priests in today’s church. In fact, they are often better qualified than a number of diocesan officials, who have sometimes lost touch with the day-to-day life of a parish, and the gifts and skills that are required. As any clergy who have attended Continuing Ministerial Education recently will sadly know, what really matters is Management Speak!
It is not easy to be a Catholic priest in the Church of England at this time of change and uncertainty. This is, however, nothing new! The heroes of the faith from the Oxford movement onwards have grappled with the challenge, and it is important that they have successors to continue their work. Priests are needed to serve the people of God and uphold the faith as we have received it.
Clergy should use the opportunity of Vocations Sunday to join with Catholic Christians throughout the world in promoting vocations, and this means preaching, teaching and prayer. The Gospel appointed for Vocations Sunday is John 10.1-10, with lots of powerful imagery of sheep, sheepfolds and shepherds.
It is also the responsibility of the laity to pray and to seek out vocations and to talk to men whom they think may have the qualities needed to be priests. Be on the lookout in your own congregations: sow seeds and encourage those exploring their priestly vocations.
There will be a Vocations Conference held at St Stephen’s House, Oxford, from Friday 5 to Sunday 7 September. If you think that either you may be interested in attending or know someone who would, please put the date in your diary now. These conferences, organized by the Catholic Societies Vocations Group, have proved invaluable to those who have attended, and they are intended for those at any stage in the discernment process. If you are just beginning to consider a vocation to priesthood, or if you have a Bishops’ Advisory Panel coming up, do come along.
I attended one of the early conferences almost ten years ago in the early stages of discernment. It was very helpful to be able to meet others who were experiencing the same feelings and who had many of the same questions. In the exploration of one’s vocation, it is useful to be able to spend time with those in the same boat, as well as spending time with a number of priests who have been in precisely that position themselves.
Our forefathers in the faith also took vocations to the religious life very seriously, but this is often overlooked today. We need to encourage such vocations in order to continue the valuable work of the many men and women who have chosen to live the Gospel in a radical way, professing the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. This may not be fashionable in today’s world, but being a disciple of Christ is about being counter-cultural.
On Vocations Sunday, every member of the Church needs to consider and pray about what God may be calling them to do. All baptized members of the Church need to consider the part they can play in the vineyard of the Lord.
The example of Our Lady is a source of constant inspiration to us all. She had a high and unique vocation, being called to be the Mother of God. God may ask us to do many things, and they may well be challenging. We need to remember that God will not ask us to do anything that we are unable to do.
We may not feel worthy, able or willing, but nothing is impossible for God. He will support us in all that we are called to do in his name. We must listen to God, be receptive and say yes to him!