Seminarian prays the rosary at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Never Stop Praying for Increase of Vocations

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Father David BonnarIn my 32 years of priesthood, I have been blessed to spend 25 of them as a parish priest and 16 as a pastor. There is nothing I enjoy more than being in a parish. What is most exciting is just being at the intersection of people’s lives and watching them respond to God’s grace. It truly is humbling having a front-row seat in this amazing drama.

One of the particular joys that can come with being in a parish as a priest is accompanying a man on his journey to the priesthood. That journey begins in the home, but it is nourished and fortified by the parish through its prayers and support.

Some years ago, when I was director of vocations for the diocese, I worked to form parish vocation councils whose task it was to pray for and promote vocations to the priesthood. One of the first ministries I formed as a pastor in my former parish was for such a council. The men and women of that group gathered regularly to pray for vocations and to support all those pursuing priestly ministry. They also were a source of encouragement to the clergy in the parish, offering not only prayers but also greetings of support on birthdays and anniversaries.

Their heartfelt and persistent prayers had a role in the ordination of two young men to the priesthood from the parish. One of these men was ordained for the Dominicans, while the other was ordained for the local diocese. Both are joyfully serving the Church.

At the same time, the prayers of these holy men and women resulted in two more men pursuing the priesthood. Both of these men remain in priestly formation. One is studying for the Spiritans, while the other is a seminarian for our diocese.

Prayer works. The prayers of the faithful make a difference in the work of vocations. In his message for the 54th World Day of Prayer for Vocations on May 7, 2017, Pope Francis called for more prayer for vocations in the parish. He said: “I ask parish communities, associations and the many prayer groups present in the Church, not to yield to discouragement but to continue praying that the Lord will send workers to his harvest. May he give us priests enamored of the Gospel, close to all their brothers and sisters, living signs of God’s merciful love.”

The pope reiterated this call to prayer in the most recent observance of World Day of Prayer for Vocations, May 3, 2020, when he said, “Dear friends, on this day in particular, but also in the ordinary pastoral life of our communities, I ask the Church to continue to promote vocations.”

Needless to say, it is imperative that we never stop praying for an increase of vocations and the health and well-being of our priests.

In addition to the joy of watching a man from the parish become a priest is the joy of welcoming a newly ordained priest home to his native parish to celebrate his first public Mass with the community that accompanied him and prayed for him on the road to the priesthood. That was the joy that the faithful of St. Aidan Parish and I experienced on the Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time this year.

Imagine being in Rome studying for the priesthood in the time of the pandemic and having to leave to come back to the states in March of this year, only to quarantine for two weeks, and then live in uncertainty for months away from the support of the seminary community, then to be ordained but with a very limited number of family and friends. What is more was to be greatly limited in celebrating one’s first Mass of Thanksgiving.

Just as brides dream of their wedding day, every young priest envisions his first public Mass with his parish family. It was not the script anyone would write. And yet, this young man could not have been more happy or grateful to be a priest. He was particularly thrilled to be home again and in the shadow of Blessed Seelos School, where he was educated. Who says you can’t come home?

Congratulations Father Jeff! Welcome home! Let’s continue to pray for our clergy and religious and for an increase of vocations. There is no place like home. And for so many of us priests, there is no place like the parish.

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 16 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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