by Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
DURING HIS HOMILY at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio announced a Year of Prayer for Vocations. I am sure that we can all understand the need for more priests, deacons and religious men and women. Our dwindling numbers have been a cause of concern for many years.
When I was ordained in 1980, I was assigned to St. Mel’s Church in Whitestone. At that time, Msgr. Jim King was pastor, and I was one of three associates. When I was transferred to St. Leo’s Church in Corona several years later, the pastor was Msgr. Tony Barretta and I was again one of three associates.
Fast forward to this century: For a year as rector at Cathedral Prep, I was the only priest on the faculty and had to rely upon the kindness of local pastors to provide the students with a different voice at Mass and the opportunity for confession. As former pastor at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Annunciation parish in Williamsburg, I had one associate and relied heavily on the assistance of retired and neighboring priests.
Statistics Tell the Story
More and more priests serving in the diocese do not speak English comfortably, more and more are serving in several capacities concurrently, and more and more young priests are being asked to take administrative positions that formerly would have been held for more seasoned clergy. The statistics tell the story. There are fewer people to meet the needs of the diocese today than there were 35 years ago. Still, on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, I think we need to be very clear that what we are praying for, and I believe the Gospel message upholds my theory that there is not a vocation shortage.
Dictionary.com offers as a definition of the word “vocation” the following: “a divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life; a function or station in life to which one is called by God: the religious vocation; the vocation of marriage.”
Willingness to Listen
In spiritual terms, a vocation is not simply a job, but a response to a call. To say there are no vocations might seem to imply that the call is not there when, in fact, God calls each of us to service. What we pray for is an increase in willingness to listen to the call, to hear the voice of God speaking within us more clearly than the shouts of the world around us.
In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter calls and people respond and request baptism. Then in the second reading and the Gospel, we see the contrast between those sheep who hear the voice of the shepherd and follow, and those who do not heed the voice and go astray. The Gospel tells us that the sheep who respond are the ones who recognize the shepherd’s voice, those who have a relationship of trust with him, built on hearing his voice and knowing they are safe in his care.
We would be far off the mark to think this applies to priestly or religious vocations only. We need more priests and religious, but we also need more married couples that are committed to living out their promises. And we need more lay persons willing to bring the faith they practice into their work and social lives.
Experience teaches us that real happiness only comes when we listen to the voice within and follow the path that is most truly ours. The actress-turned-religious sister, Mother Dolores Hart, makes this point abundantly clear in her autobiography, “Ear of the Heart.” She speaks poignantly about her desire not to enter contemplative life because she was so happy in Hollywood – starring even with Elvis Presley. Yet, she kept hearing the Shepherd’s voice, and knew that her real happiness demanded she follow.
Prayer, Meditation and Courage
Built on the knowledge of God that comes from prayer and meditation, when we hear the Shepherd’s voice, we become in tune with God revealing Himself and His will within us. It is from this prayer and meditation that we find the courage to follow the call we hear, to follow the Shepherd in married, ordained or consecrated life. It is this process of being attentive to God revealing within us His will for us that we call “discernment.”
The world presents so many things as valuable which are, in fact, as fleeting as the happiness they promise. As parents, educators and parishioners, it becomes our task to help create an environment of prayer and encouragement that young people, in particular, need in order to hear the Shepherd’s voice in today’s world.
We are – each and all – called to something specifically our own. In this sense, there is no shortage of vocations: we all have one. May all men and women find the courage and discipline to enter into a prayerful relationship with Christ so as to hear His voice and then, just as prayerfully, respond to the call they hear.
Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 2: 14A, 36-41
Psalm 23: 1-3A, 3B4, 5, 6
1 Peter 2: 20B-25
John 10: 1-10
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Transfiguration parish, Maspeth.