Put Out into the Deep

How to Encourage Religious Vocations

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

The phrase, “Pray to the Lord of the Harvest so that He may send out laborers into His harvest,” is not the suggestion of a priest, bishop or even a pope. Rather, it is the command of the Lord Jesus, Himself, that if we are to have sufficient laborers in the vineyard of the Kingdom of God, we need to pray.

The 53rd World Day of Prayer for Vocations called this year by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has a theme, “The Church, Mother of Vocations.” The Holy Father begins his message by quoting his own motto, Miserando atque eligendo – by having mercy and by choosing – which describes the call of St. Matthew by Jesus.

He called Matthew from a life of defrauding others to be an apostle. In our own day, it seems that we are calling young people from lives that are incompatible with the Gospel at times, to be ministers of the Gospel. They, themselves, know that this is a problem and feel that somehow it disqualifies them from following the Lord’s call, even though they feel the call. This is one of the major obstacles to vocations that we must overcome in developing a pastoral approach to vocation recruitment for the priesthood and religious life.

The present culture in which our young people grow up is hardly supportive of the kind of sacrificial life that is demanded by a vocation. It is a sacrifice that demands poverty, or a certain detachment from worldly goods, chastity in the midst of a world that sees sexual activity as inevitable, and obedience in a world where young people follow their own desires and instincts and seem to take orders from no one. It is truly a counter-cultural call for those who respond to a vocation in our own day.

The title of our Holy Father’s message reminds us that vocations are born from within the Church when he says, “From the moment a vocation begins to become evident, it is necessary to have an adequate ‘sense’ of the Church.”

As vocations are born within the Church, they grow within the Church and they must be sustained and formed by the community of faith. To this end, I have asked each parish to establish and maintain a vocation committee, consisting of those who have the most contact with young parishioners, or even those who are willing to pray for vocations. Teachers, directors of religious education, youth ministers and all who are in contact with the young people of the parish should be members of vocation committees that can identify young people who seem to have a calling. Committee members should encourage those young people to act upon that calling and pray for them, that they might be open to accepting the call.

Once a person is identified as someone who might have a vocation, the diocese has a good program of discernment for those who are willing to test their call. We have increased the number of “Project Andrew” programs where young people can meet directly with one of the bishops of the diocese in small groups within deaneries, allowing them to find out more about vocations and to be directly asked about their vocation.

In his message on vocations, Pope Francis tells us that just as Jesus called Matthew, each one who is called must be called by the community of faith. Here in Brooklyn and Queens, we are very fortunate to have the Saint John Paul II House of Discernment for young men who wish to test their vocation before entering the seminary. Father Sean Suckiel, Vocation Director, lives there and directs the house where five men are discerning.

A similar discernment process is available to women who are discerning a call to religious life in gatherings called “Project Myriam.”

Several years ago, we conducted research in conjunction with St. John’s University which discovered one variable that is most significant. In the series of questions presented to over 1,400 young people regarding the obstacles for responding to a priestly or religious vocation, the simple reply was, “No one ever asked me.” We need to be about asking, encouraging, and praying for those who will fulfill roles of leadership in the Church today and in the years to come. We cannot underestimate the power of encouragement and prayer.

Again, I make a plea as we put out into the deep with our vocation ministry in the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens. If a vocation committee does not exist in your parish, please volunteer to begin one or assist in forming one and finding members who can be the eyes and ears of the Church, which is the Mother and is solicitous for its growth. You will see on this page a prayer for vocations composed by our Holy Father himself. Make an effort to pray this prayer, as a member of the Church who is willing to sustain the future of our Church.

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