My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
During this month of May dedicated to Our Mother Mary — and anticipating World Day of Prayer for Vocations on May 11 — we are deeply conscious that through her fiat, responding to the angel Gabriel’s announcement that she was to be the Mother of God, Mary answered "Thy will be done!" Her "yes" allowed the Word to become flesh and dwell among us.
Priests, religious and laity, through their chosen vocations, allow God’s Word to dwell among us. Through the priestly vocation, bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ truly present among the worshipping community. The forgiveness of Christ is renewed at each sacramental confession, and the sick are comforted by Jesus Christ through the priesthood in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. At each celebration of the church’s rich sacramental life, the life of faith is nurtured through those who have answered the call of Jesus Christ to follow Him. "The Gospels present vocation as a marvelous meeting between God and human beings. This is the mystery of being called, the mystery that involves the life of every Christian, but which is manifested with greater clarity in those whom Christ invites to leave everything to follow Him more nearly. Christ has always chosen some persons to work together with him in a more direct manner for the realization of the Father’s plan of salvation" (Pastoral Guidelines for Fostering Vocations to Priestly Ministry, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2013, p. 7 — see "Read More" citation at end).
One is not ordained for his own personal advancement, but rather for service to the people of God. The priesthood and the church are intimately linked and this solemn union — reflecting the love of Christ for his bride the church — reaches its culmination at holy Mass, the eucharistic sacrifice. The consecration of the priest to the church becomes the consecration of bread and wine creating the ultimate sacrament of unity. Through the priest’s union with Christ the faithful enter into communio with the Lord Jesus. Thus, "the priest serves the communio of the Church in the name of Jesus Christ. The Lord calls the priest personally and brings him into a personal relationship with himself, with the experience of apostolic brotherhood and with the personal mission whose origin is supremely Trinitarian" (Ibid., p. 9). The life of the Trinity becomes our life as we enter into the mystical love of the three persons.
In his service to the church, the priest is supported and aided by the countless numbers of consecrated women and men, who, by solemn vows of poverty, chastity and holy obedience, completely give themselves to building up the Kingdom of God: in contemplative prayer, assisting the sick and the dying, teaching both inside and outside the classroom, visiting the forgotten, counseling the troubled, supporting family life, and assuring the care of the homeless and the vulnerable. Priests and religious unite in their love for God’s people, which began with their love for their vocation. In the church’s history in these United States, religious women and men founded schools, hospitals, homes for children and the abandoned. Often in the face of grave difficulties — even including prejudices and animosity — they caused their enemies in many instances to become their great supporters because of their heroic accomplishments reaching beyond the boundaries of the church.
Following upon the Second Vatican Council, the ministry of the permanent diaconate was revised. In our diocese, permanent deacons, with the support of their wives and their families, serve in our parishes, hospitals, nursing homes and prisons, as well as in many other outreach programs sponsored by Catholic Charities and the diocese. They bring to many of our communities the presence of Jesus in places where ordinarily people would not come to know Jesus’ love for them. In prisons, where hopelessness can be deeply felt, our deacons bring a ray of light, and the incarcerated realize that conversion is always possible. While imprisoned, those confined come to realize that no walls can keep Jesus from entering. And so it is that our deacons enter into situations crying out for a glimpse of Jesus, a voice to echo his message and the reassurance that all is not lost and eternal life in Christ is possible.
But let us not forget the countless numbers of laypersons who are so willing and ready to support their brothers and sisters in ministry: the daily communicants, those who give their talents and expertise to build up the church, those who always clean up after a parish function, those who just never say no when asked to serve in some way in a parish’s life. And among these wonderful people there are those who pray unceasingly for vocations to the priesthood, religious life and permanent diaconate. They realize that the Catholic Church loses its identity without the Eucharist and the priesthood, supported by the other ministries in the church which all derive their strength from the most holy Eucharist.
During this month of May, we celebrate the jubilees of our priests and women religious, a living testimony of witnesses to Christ in our world. We also acknowledge those who after so many years of dedicated service have now reached senior status. But who shall replace them? Who from among our young people will come forth and say, "Thy will be done"?
Recently, I attended a regional meeting of priests. Seated around the table were priests enriching our presbyterate from Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Vietnam, Springfield in Massachusetts and me, the transplant from Vermont/Rhode Island. Who was missing? A priest from the Diocese of Rochester! And yet when I visit parishes, so often the people ask me to send them a priest or plead that their priest will remain in the parish. The question I then ask is this: "When was the last time this parish sent a young man to study for the priesthood?"
"For its part, the parish is the place par excellence where the Gospel of the Christian vocation is proclaimed and, in particular, where the ideal of priestly ministry is presented. It is the fertile ground where vocations develop and mature, on the condition that it gather together ‘the family of God as a brotherhood fired with a single ideal, and through Christ in the Spirit … lead him to God the Father’ and, therefore, it should be characterized by a way of living like that of the first Christians (see Acts 2:42; 4:32)" (Ibid., p. 17).
While appreciating the many beautiful vocations and states in life in the church, we must pray specifically for vocations to the priesthood and the vowed consecrated life. Vocations are indeed present, but our young people must be encouraged, for in their hectic daily lives, these vocations can be so far from their thoughts. "The sensitivity of young people to the conditions of the weak and the poor is growing. Many show themselves ready to serve, to identify themselves with their neighbor’s joys and difficulties in life" (Ibid., p. 19). With such generosity of heart, our young men are ready to hear the call of Christ to be his priests, and our young women to continue the beautiful witness of religious life.
I also ask that you pray for our seminarians, who, with a generous heart, are preparing to serve the Lord as priests. They have accepted this call to service in a world often not receptive to the words of the Gospel. The challenge before them is great and they do rely upon our prayers and support. Our diocese also is blessed with seminarians from other countries who have committed themselves to preparing for priestly ministry in the Diocese of Rochester. But this does not excuse us from fostering our own vocations to the priesthood.
I pray that the fine example of our jubilarians, both priests and religious, will inspire young men to follow the call of Christ as priests and young women to embrace the vowed, consecrated religious life. Please join with me in thanking our jubilarians for their many years of faithful service! By their lives of dedication in service to the church our diocese has been enriched and the proclamation of the Gospel heard and received by so many.
Renewing my own gratitude for your deep faith and participation in the life of the church, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
+ The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester
The complete USCCB document "Pastoral Guidelines for Fostering Vocations to Priestly Ministry" can be found at http://bit.ly/1i1EGEi under the "Resources" heading.
Special day focuses on vocations
The purpose of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is to publically fulfill the Lord’s instruction to, "Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest" (Mt 9:38; Lk 10:2). As a climax to a prayer that is continually offered throughout the Church, it affirms the primacy of faith and grace in all that concerns vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life. While appreciating all vocations, the Church concentrates its attention this day on vocations to the ordained ministries (priesthood and diaconate), to the Religious life in all its forms (male and female, contemplative and apostolic), to societies of apostolic life, to secular institutes in their diversity of services and membership, and to the missionary life, in the particular sense of mission "ad gentes".
This year marks the 51st Anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The above information was obtained from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website. For more information on the World Day of Prayer for Vocations as well as other resources on vocations, visit www.usccb.org/vocations.