As I meet with the priests and religious of the Diocese of Providence, I like to ask individuals to share the story of their call to the priesthood or the religious life. The responses are as varied as the individuals who serve with such generosity here in Providence. Despite that variety, there is one common element that seems to figure into every experience – one that is also a part of my own vocation experience. That common element is what I might call “the tug.” Even when we might be making other plans or pursuing other dreams, there is this ineffable sense of something more. For some, the sense that God is drawing them to religious life or the priesthood involves dramatic experiences. For most of us it is that constant awareness – that sense that we will not be complete unless and until we respond.
As we recognize the importance of vocations for our church, we need to begin there with the awareness that we do not issue the call. The mystery of vocation is that it comes from God by the gentle and often hidden work of the Holy Spirit. As a Diocese, our job is to help the young hear that call and to accompany them when their hearts respond. The most important way that we help them to hear the call is to bring them close to the heart of Jesus. In hearing his word, in the gift of his eucharist, and in prayerful and compassionate community they come to know him. He is the author of the summons, the inspirer of the response, and the point of the ministry.
In this formation of the young, Catholic parents and families are essential. As preachers often say: “vocations do not come from the clouds, they come from families!” It is no surprise to me that the parts of the world where vocations have declined are the same cultures where family life has declined. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have responded generously to the call of the Lord. And we owe a debt of gratitude to the parents and families who formed them to hear that call and support them in their response.
For this same reason, it is important to realize the profound link between and among vocations. It is fair to say that in our culture there is something of a vocation crisis in the Sacrament of Matrimony. Good, faithful marriages are essential to the Church, to her mission, and to her clergy and religious. Any effective priest or religious will tell of their joy in, and dependence upon, those faithful married couples for ministry, for inspiration, and for the strengthening of their own religious vocation. In this regard, the Diaconal vocation is a beautiful bridge as Deacons most often dwell in the world of Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony.
Like much of the Northeastern US, the Diocese of Providence has suffered a decline in vocations. We need to pray continuously for the Lord’s grace in forming young people and helping them to hear the Voice of the Good Shepherd. When they do respond, we need to see to it that they have the time and resources to know the Lord and his Church ever more deeply.
I have met so many wonderful priests here in Providence. Recently, I met with Religious Superiors and learned about their ministries here. I have also met our seminarians who are already a source of joy and hope to me. We may have fewer, but they are remarkable young men of humility and zeal.
I hope that you will join me in praying daily that young people will find their purpose and meaning in the Heart of Jesus. Join me, too in praying for those on the path of formation and discernment. And please pray for the clergy and religious of Providence. If I may also ask a special favor. As I mentioned a few weeks back, I will be meeting with the priests of Providence next week. Please accompany us in prayer as we pray, deliberate, and renew our sacred call.