Newly ordained priests process out of St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, N.Y., following their ordination. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

Promoting Vocations

The best advertisement for the priesthood is a happy priest

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Bonnar (new)In my portion of the Lord’s vineyard, which is predominantly rural, this is the time of the harvest. Farmers are gathering all that was sown. The fields are becoming increasingly empty, but the barns and silos are full of the fruits of many labors.

While I am not a farmer and admittedly know little about the intricacies that go into this laborious process, I know that every harvest is different. The elements of nature — sun, rain, temperature and soil, along with the reality of time — can make each yield of the crop different from year to year.

The work of promoting vocations has often been compared to sowing seeds. Of course, God is the primordial farmer. In his wisdom and providence, God sows each vocational seed, but it is incumbent on the Church to do everything in her power to bring the seed to fruition and yield a fruitful harvest.

In my own vocational story, much of the tilling and nurturing of the seed occurred in what is often referred to as “the first church,” otherwise known as the family. I remain eternally grateful to my parents and siblings for assisting me in discerning and discovering my priestly vocation.

But the work of unwrapping the gift of a vocation does not rest solely on the family. The work of a vocation is a shared responsibility, and we all must do our part. I think of the many priests along the way in my vocational journey who projected a happy and joyful image of priesthood, and in their own unique way invited and encouraged me to embrace priesthood.

When I was the director of vocations, I used to tell my brother priests, “The best advertisement for the priesthood is a happy priest.” As time goes by in the living out of our respective priesthoods, the smiles can wane and the joy in our hearts can disappear.

Given that reality, I am reminded of the many priests along the way who demonstrated joy even in challenging times. From my perspective, their joy flowed from a life of prayer and the recognition that they were beloved by God. The joy of our priesthood becomes lost when we stop praying and forget God and his great love for us.

As we anticipate National Vocation Awareness Week, Nov. 6-12, 2022, I invite us all to be more intentional about sharing the joy of our vocation and participating more fully in the work of the harvest. A smile, an encouraging word, an invitation for a man to consider the priesthood, can make all the difference. God puts us in the lives of others to assist them in discovering their true vocation. Now is our time to be God’s farmer.

When I was a pastor of a large parish, I formed a vocation council of laymen and women to assist in the work of promoting and praying for vocations. Their efforts, I believe, resulted in two men being ordained priests with two more on the road to priesthood. What helped this effort, even more, was the erection of a Eucharistic chapel where people came throughout the week to pray. There is a direct link between parishes that foster Eucharistic adoration and vocations.

Many years ago, I learned that one of the reasons that there were fewer vocations to the priesthood was found in the simple fact that no one asked men to consider such a life. Who is God calling you to invite into this interesting and exciting life of priesthood? The invitation is as simple as, “Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?”

I also know from experience that another challenge in the work of vocations comes down to a lack of parental and familial support. I remember many conversations with parents who struggled with the thought of their son becoming a priest because they did not think he could be happy or fulfilled by living such a life. I guess they did not see enough joy in the priests whom they knew.

I feel so blessed to not only have seen that joy in so many priests but also to come to know that joy “fully” as a priest of Jesus Christ. If you know that same joy, be sure to share it!

BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.

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