by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
This week, the Church in the U.S. celebrates National Vocations Awareness Week. During this time, we are asked to pray to our Lord for more dedicated priests, deacons and consecrated men and women, that they may be inspired by Jesus Christ, supported by our faith community and respond generously to God’s gift of a vocation.
A vocation to service in the Church is certainly one very much needed at this time in our history. Perhaps our future will never see the number of priests and consecrated men and women that we did in the past. This is balanced, however, by the great number of dedicated laity who have taken up positions of leadership in the Church.
In several weeks, we will celebrate Lay Ministry Sunday here in Brooklyn and Queens, and I will speak more about that topic in the future.
The stable leadership of the ordained and consecrated is very necessary for the life of the Church today. Several years ago, our Vocations Office, then under the direction of Father Kevin Sweeney, undertook a research project with St. John’s University regarding the obstacles that young people face in responding to a religious vocation.
Insight into Obstacles
More recently, this past September, another study was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) titled “Consideration of Priesthood and Religious Life Among Never Married U.S. Catholics.” These two studies give us some insight into the obstacles that need to be overcome to allow unmarried Catholics to accept a vocation for the ordained and consecrated life. Primarily, those who are in contact with the Church are most likely to respond to a vocation. However, in our ever-changing society and Church structures, the type of contact necessary to encourage the vocations has become a difficult task to manage.
The results of the CARA study closely mirrored our own Diocesan study. The CARA study identified sub-groups in the never-married Catholic population, including teens and adults, and compared them with those who had considered a vocation, at least “a little seriously,” to those who say that they had not considered a vocation or who say that they did so, but not seriously. Overall, 12 percent of the male respondents say that they considered becoming a priest or brother, at least a little seriously, while 10 percent of the female respondents said that they considered becoming a religious sister at least a little seriously.
How important these statistics are to us, as they are very much the same findings we found in our own Diocese. A decent amount of young people and never-married Catholics have considered a vocation. The point is to get these people over the obstacles that keep them from making a commitment to that vocation. Some of the things that are helpful are not only weekly Mass attendance, religious instruction, youth programs, but also parents who speak to their children about religion seriously and those who participate in devotional activities such as the Rosary recited in the family, as well as other devotions.
Most importantly are those who have some contact with someone who was following a religious vocation or has participated in parish ministry as lector, minister of Holy Communion or youth ministry. Interestingly, those who attended a World Youth Day are four times more likely than others to consider a religious vocation.
These findings, indeed, are encouraging. We have also found that encouragement from others is very important. The report stated, “Respondents who have one person encouraging them are nearly twice as likely to consider a vocation as those who are not encouraged. Each additional person encouraging these respondents increased the likelihood of consideration. The effect is additive. The respondent who had three persons encourage them would be expected to be five times more likely to consider a vocation than those who were not encouraged by anyone.”
Encouragement and prayer are the two elements necessary to make sure that we have enough ordained and consecrated men and women to serve the Church. I am encouraged by the number of parish vocation committees here in Brooklyn and Queens whose responsibility is just that: to encourage vocations, to speak to those who seem to be open to vocations. Unfortunately, not every parish has a parish vocation committee.
Our efforts this year by Father Kevin Abels, Director of Vocations, will be to increase the number of vocation committees in parishes and to encourage those already established to find creative and effective ways of encouraging those discerning vocations to make a leap of faith and consider discerning more seriously.
Moving in the Right Direction
Our own situation in the Diocese of Brooklyn regarding our seminarians is an encouraging one. At last count, we have 64 seminarians; 12 in philosophy, nine in pre-theology and 43 in theology. This number of seminarians is an encouraging sign but one which should not make us rest on our laurels. There are so many potential vocations among us which we must pursue.
Vocation Awareness Week gives us an opportunity, not only to be aware of the need for vocations but also of the means by which we can encourage vocations. The vocation prayer that is recited in some churches at the Prayer of the Faithful, and also for private devotion, is truly important because a vocation is a gift from God. It cannot be given by ourselves.
We can only hope and pray to the Harvest Master that He sends laborers into the deep to reap and to harvest the catch which has been prepared for those who will follow in the footsteps of the Master.
Join me this week in a sincere and deep prayer for vocations.
Father Joseph Fonti, center, walks with Christopher Bethge, left, and Ralph Edel, seminarians for the Diocese of Brooklyn, at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, L.I. Bethge and Edel were among the more than 50 seminarians from St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, attending a four-day retreat in Huntington. National Vocation Awareness Week is Jan. 13-19.