During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we pray to the Master of the Harvest to send more laborers into the vineyard to be ambassadors of Christ’s love and mirrors of his mercy to hearts longing for healing and hope. Here in the Archdiocese of Hartford, we are blessed to have a number of active and contemplative religious orders, priests, deacons and committed lay leaders passionately pursuing their vocation and striving to share the Gospel in word and deed. Yet, as our Lord said nearly 2,000 years ago, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” We need many more committed Catholics to actively pursue their vocation in the church.
Every vocation is a call to serve the communion of the church through a life of love and service. Every baptized Catholic has a vocation – a call – to give his or her life away as a disciple of Jesus. This universal call to holiness, however, needs to find a particular expression in a concrete gift of self, either through the beautiful sacrament of marriage and Catholic family life or through the commitment to live in a single state, sustained by the Lord and with availability for mission. This latter decision finds particular expression in priesthood, in a religious community or in a special, consecrated state according to the unique call of God for each person. Every vocation, even one that seems the most solitary and hidden (such as that of a hermit), serves the communion of the church and has a missionary dimension.
Our challenge, as a Christian community, is to first of all pray for the grace to live our own vocation to the fullest. Faithful witness is always the most powerful way to share the Gospel with others. We also are called to challenge our young people to undertake the adventure of discerning God’s will for their lives and empowering them to find the courage to answer that divine call wholeheartedly, casting fears aside because of the powerful love of God on whom we rely. Often we ask our young people, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The better question, if we truly desire their happiness, is, “What does God want for you as you grow up?” Following the Lord’s plan for our life is the only way to lasting peace, true joy and authentic fulfillment.
Another important question to ask our young people is, “Why do you want to be ____ when you grow up?” God often works through our good desires, and so we must encourage our young people to honestly explore their motivations so as to leave behind whatever is selfish and ultimately unfulfilling and be free to follow the good desires that will lead to life-giving decisions. A great obstacle to discerning vocations in our contemporary climate is the fear of commitment. That fear was always around, but it is even more pronounced today because of various cultural and technological conditions that coalesce to form the mirage of endless possibilities for this life with little or no reference to God. “Keep your options open” feels more imperative than the Ten Commandments. The problem is that this non-committal stance closes the door on real discernment, for its pre-condition is an openness to accepting the divine will with the obedience of faith. It would be ludicrous to ask God, “What do you want me to do?,” when we have no real intention of following it unless it fits in with our own ideas and tastes. The Christian disciple, instead of aimlessly wandering through life, is to ardently seek God in all things and be disposed to follow where the Holy Spirit leads us.
Here in the Archdiocese of Hartford, we currently have 23 seminarians actively pursuing God’s will in their lives and preparing to serve him in the holy priesthood. Please keep them in your prayers and pray for more young men to respond to God’s call. I am convinced that the Lord has not stopped calling priests; it’s just that it is more difficult to hear that call and respond generously. Please, do what you can to promote vocations in your families and communities. Priests don’t grow on trees or drop out of the sky; they must come from our families and parishes. If you see a young man who you think has the qualities to make a good priest, tell him. It just may be your voice that Jesus uses to call forth part of the next generation of men to celebrate the sacraments and give witness to God’s mercy through lives of priestly service.
Allow me to close with the words of Pope Francis: “Each vocation in the church has its origin in the compassionate gaze of Jesus. Conversion and vocation are two sides of the same coin, and continually remain interconnected throughout the whole of the missionary disciple’s life.” May this Year of Mercy grant all of us the grace of conversion that will empower us to seek out and live our unique vocations to the fullest.
Father Jeff Gubbiotti is the vocation director for the Archdiocese of Hartford.