Nov. 2-8 is National Vocation Awareness Week. This week is an opportunity to focus our attention on vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life in our parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Hartford. It is a time to educate, to inform, to pray and to invite our young men and women to consider discerning a vocation in the church.
As vocation director for the Archdiocese of Hartford, I often hear people say how challenging my job must be to encourage men to discern a calling to the priesthood. My response is to let people know the challenge is not mine alone. Forty, 50 and 60 years ago, young people discerning a vocation to the priesthood and consecrated life were numerous. It was not unusual to have ordination classes of 20 or more men. If a young person showed signs of desiring to serve God or signs of a great love for God and the church, he or she was encouraged to discern God’s call.
Today, we live in a very different time. When young people feel they might have a vocation, their circle of support outside of the parish may not have a firm foundation. They may even feel that they are alone among their peers in their desire to serve God and the church. Many of our young Catholics may not even be aware of the various vocations in the church to which God calls. Or perhaps no one has ever approached them and asked, “Have you ever considered becoming a priest or a consecrated sister or brother?”
In 1992, at the 30th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Pope Saint John Paul II called for a promotion of a “culture of vocations.” We must continue to promote and build a culture of vocations in our time, in our parishes and in our families. All of us are called to be people who inspire and encourage vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. We are called to educate our young about vocations, to pray for vocations and to invite. Our Lord made it very clear that we all have a part to play when he says, “The harvest is abundant, but the Laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”(Mt 9:37-38)
Some have said that we have a vocation crisis in the church today. This might seem to indicate that our young people are not being called, or are not as willing to answer the call as they were in years past. I don’t believe this is the case. God is still calling men and women to serve and the desire to serve still exists. Perhaps we can say there is a vocation awareness and encouragement crisis. Or perhaps the call is so difficult to hear in our noisy, busy and complicated world.
Despite all the challenges, the call is being heard. The vocations are here in our archdiocese, and we have young people with great talents and gifts discerning the call. Currently, we have 26 men in formation for the priesthood. There are positive signs that we are moving toward a vocation culture where young people are eagerly discerning a call to the priesthood and the consecrated life. I am confident that any crisis we might have experienced in the church can be overcome and a “culture of vocations” will continue to grow in our archdiocese, but we need your help, your encouragement, your invitation and your prayers.
If you yourself have heard the gentle call from our Lord, this is the time to take the next step and learn what it means to seriously discern a call to priesthood or consecrated life. Take this week to talk with your pastor, or a religious sister or brother about their vocation. Contact my office at 860- 242-5573, and we would be glad to meet with you or simply send you some material to assist you in your discernment.
During National Vocation Awareness Week, please help build the “culture of vocations” by encouraging and even inviting men and women to answer God’s call to serve. Please pray for vocations, and if the call has come to you, answer the call by seeking his will for your life in prayer and, as Jesus says so many times, “Be not afraid.”
Father Anthony Smith is director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Hartford.