My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
A culture of vocations is what needs to be established in the Church today. During the month of January, we celebrated Vocations Awareness Week, a week when the Church concentrates on developing what we can call a culture of vocations. Culture is a way of thinking and acting that determines our way of life. In the Church today, a new understanding of vocations to the priesthood and religious life is necessary. In the 50 years since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has made clear that the vocation of every Christian is the universal call of holiness, while at the same time recognizing that priestly and religious vocations build on this universal call.
Leadership, however, is necessary to develop the life of the Church and the vocation of the lay Catholic. When we look to the future, we see that a definite change in trend has occurred. Last year in the Church of the United States, a four percent increase was noted in the number of seminarians in both the secular and religious life. This is a good sign, but one that needs to be monitored.
If we look to our own diocese here in Brooklyn and Queens, I, myself, can see a change since the eight years that I have been your bishop. When I came to the diocese in October of 2003, there were 27 seminarians in both philosophical and theological studies. Today, as I write this column, we have approximately 63 seminarians in philosophical, pre-theological and theological training. During these past eight years, I have been privileged to ordain 30 men to the priesthood. Steadily we have been adding to the number of priests available to serve the Diocese of Brooklyn. The Lord’s words must be taken seriously, “The harvest is great and the laborers are few.” Jesus told us that we must pray to the Harvest Master asking Him to send laborers into the vineyard. There will never be enough laborers in the vineyard to reap the harvest that the Lord has sowed. But it is our responsibility to do all that we can to encourage people, especially our young people, to dedicate their lives fully to the service of God and His Church.
One of the practical ways in which we as a diocese have acted most recently is that our parishes have been invited to engage in the Called By Name program, and we hope that many will participate. Called By Name is a simple program by which parishioners, teachers, catechists, and any members of the parish are asked to identify men and women who they believe might have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Each one of us is called by name in baptism to follow our Christian vocation.[hr]
Special Effort in Immigrant Communities
In the Scriptures, and in the history of the Church, many others have been called by name. Our program gives us an opportunity to unexpectedly call someone who may be thinking of a vocation and has never had the opportunity to pursue that call. This is especially true in our immigrant communities where it is very difficult for first-, and even second-generation immigrants to pursue vocations in the Church for many reasons; mainly, education and financial. A special effort has been made to reach out to these immigrant communities asking them to identify those who they believe might have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. The culture of vocations demands that everyone take a responsibility. No longer can it just be the province of the priest or religious to identify those who might be called.
Another program in which we have been participating for the past eight years is called Project Andrew, which bears this name because Andrew was the one who introduced Peter to Jesus. Approximately every six weeks to two months, the diocese hosts a Project Andrew, where I meet directly with those who are brought to me by their “Andrew.” They are asked to come to pray and have a meal with their bishop, as well as to hear talks by seminarians, priests and myself regarding religious and priestly vocations. The diocese also offers women the opportunity to discern a possible vocation to religious life through a similar program called Project Miriam. This program invites women to visit different religious communities throughout the diocese here in Brooklyn and Queens for an afternoon/evening of “prayer and conversation” and to speak to religious sisters about their calling. These programs have truly produced fruit over the years. Many of our seminarians today were introduced to the idea of discerning a vocation through Project Andrew.
We cannot underestimate the work of Father Kevin Abels, director of Vocations, who has been working hard for the past three years to meet young people and to run the Pope John Paul II House of Discernment, where the Vocation Office is now located. Father Abels is ably assisted by Lisa Amore, and together they form a good pastoral team which is able to invite those considering a vocation to find the proper atmosphere for discernment. Together they also staff the Pope John Paul II House of Discernment. This three-year-old project has enabled 10 men to enter the seminary at various levels. This house allows men over 18 years of age to live there, go to school or work, and discern a vocation in a stable atmosphere of prayer and direction.
Discerning a vocation is an exercise of putting out into the deep. Discernment is mostly a movement by the Spirit in prayer. I ask you to join me in prayer at this time for the success of our Called By Name program and the other initiatives undertaken for the increase of vocations. We all want priests and religious brothers and sisters to serve us, however, we must ask the Lord of the Harvest to send them to us. No one can give a vocation to another, rather it is the work of the Spirit. We pray to that Spirit that this time to give us the workers needed for the rich harvest.