Where do vocations come from? How to make your community ‘vocations friendly’

By Fr David Cartwright, 27 September 2019

Vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life do not occur ex nihilo (out of nothing)—they come from a context. Primarily, of course, this is the call of the Lord. However, to ‘amplify’ or ‘turn up the volume’ of this call, a few things can help.

Our local parishes, sometimes called by Archbishop Peter Comensoli ‘communities of grace’, are the richest soil for the harvesting of vocations from the local Church. It is here that the local Church nourishes and supports those whom the Lord calls.

It is also the local Church that calls forth vocations from their number to serve the communities who nourished them. But how can these ‘communities of grace’ be ‘vocations friendly’?

Let me offer a few suggestions:

Get parishioners to pray

A supernatural call requires a supernatural response. Prayer is the necessary first ingredient to more vocations. For example, some parishes include a petition for vocations each week in the General Intercessions. Perhaps the priest of the parish may offer a Mass for Vocations from the Missal on occasion?

Things such as the occasional Holy Hour for vocations, especially near times such as Good Shepherd Sunday, St John Vianney’s Feast Day, Priesthood Sunday, Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Ordinations, priestly jubilees, and significant moments in the life of the parish and the local Church.

Active identification

There may be some young people whom you or others identify as ‘possible candidates’. Firstly, begin to pray for them intentionally. Get others to join you in prayer for them. Do some penance for their vocation.

Secondly, befriend them and perhaps invite them to be involved in parish ministry. Can they become an altar server or lector? Liturgical ministries are important seed beds for vocations to the priesthood.

Ask the Holy Spirit to open their heart and when the time is right pose the question to them. Timing is everything, as the saying goes, and laying the groundwork and sowing the seeds are important for the call to be heard and responded to.

Insert vocation into the parish ‘vocabulary’

With the dearth of vocations in many dioceses and congregations, the temptation is for this issue to disappear from the vocabulary of many (except to lament what is not happening).

Share any good news with the parishioners. When there is an ordination, priestly jubilee or other significant occasion, tell people about it. Write something for the parish bulletin and use social media well.

Just as thanksgiving, stewardship, ministry and service have become part of parish vocabulary over the years, so should vocations. It’s at least as important for the future of the Church as parish finances!

Parish bulletin and social media

Use these mediums to promote and pray for vocations. Share articles, stories and events from your diocese and your vocations office and religious congregations. The parish bulletin is perhaps the one ‘religious’ thing that people will read. It is usually the only religious thing they will read, while waiting for Mass to start, or the homily to finish! Stories, articles and items of interest about vocations and ministry in the parish bulletin will contribute, albeit subtly, to creating a culture of vocations in the parish community.

Invite visiting priests and religious to the parish

Visibility is important. We have a generation of young people who have probably not seen a religious brother or sister in ministry. And if they have, they are elderly. The presence of priests in schools is not always as visible and active as it was in former times.

There are perhaps occasions when you can invite religious to the parish for the weekend. They may wish to showcase their ministry or sell merchandise. Perhaps there are occasions when a visiting priest may give a vocations testimony. The visible presence of priests and religious can broaden the horizons of parishioners to show that vocations are not confined to the same priest they see each week. As good as he is, of course!

Promotional material

Things such as posters, brochures and banners may seem to some to be passé in this era where social media seems to reign. However, not all those who visit our parishes, schools and communities are as ‘connected’ as we might think. And if they are ‘connected’, it’s likely that the topic of vocations is not the top of their bookmarked webpages.

We are trying not just to increase vocations, but also to raise awareness of the Catholic population. So promotional material in our schools, parishes and halls is important to raise the consciousness of the issue.

School Ministry

In times gone by, religious and priests were a regular physical presence in our education system. Their presence spoke for itself. Now, such a responsibility falls to RE teachers, leaders and the chaplain or parish priest. We will not see instant results with vocations ministry. We are planting seeds for the future. The vocations that we have now are a result of the work of others before us. We owe it to future generations to do something with our school ministry.

This may be as simple as visiting a classroom once a year and proposing the idea of vocations. Perhaps it involves the school assembly, public events, posters, newsletters, social media, retreats or camps. There are many opportunities for such an awareness-awakening exercise in school ministry.

A now retired archbishop from the US once said that if we don’t mention the idea of a vocation by year two, we are too late!

Other resources

The Melbourne Vocations Office is able to offer support and ideas for promoting vocations in the local communities. Some parishes have embraced the idea of a parish ‘Vocations Awareness Committee’. There is an excellent resource available for this from the US which may be of interest: ‘Hundredfold: A Guide to Parish Vocation Ministry’ (www.vocationministry.com).

The possibilities are endless. We devote a great deal of time and energy (hopefully) to evangelisation. Vocations should be an integral part of any parish ministry. The local parish community is the locus of spiritual energy and pastoral activity of the local Church. Part of this activity must be prayer and promotion of vocations if our local communities and the wider Church are to fulfil the divine command of the Lord to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Fr David Cartwright is Vocations Director of the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

For more information about Vocations in the Diocese of Parramatta, please visit: www.parracatholic.org/vocations/

This article was originally published in the August 2019 edition of the Melbourne Catholic Magazine.

With thanks to Melbourne Catholic Magazine and the Archdiocese of Melbourne.


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