Dear friends in Christ:
Years ago in The Texas Catholic Herald there was a little filler box that said “Vocations are everybody’s business!” How true! It should not be news that we are facing a severe shortage of priests today. The number of religious sisters has dropped even more. Parishes in many parts of our country and in other parts of the world are closing. At the same time, areas like ours are seeing an explosive growth of Catholics with parishes getting larger and larger and being served by fewer and fewer priests. I wish I had a magic wand to make vocations suddenly appear. But a magic wand is not the solution. The reality is that vocations have always been a challenge to the Church. Jesus knew this reality even during his earthly life and ministry. Knowing the challenge, Jesus has already given us the solution when he said:
“The harvest is plenty but the laborers are few. So beg the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest!” (Lk 10.2).
Twenty five years ago, St. John Vianney was the largest parish in Texas and one of the largest in the United States. We were blessed with three full time priests assigned to the parish, two priests to help on the weekends and three religious sisters on staff. Back then, we had a population of around 3,000 families. Today, we have 5,000 families with only one assigned priest, and we are not even the largest parish in our deanery! St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is more than twice our size. St. Cyril, Epiphany and St. Jerome all have more parishioners than SJV. We have been fortunate to have outside priests to help us, but that is becoming more difficult. I have asked the chancery that our parish be considered for an associate pastor (parochial vicar) in the future, but I know that the cardinal does not have a store room in the chancery filled with priests waiting for an assignment. Furthermore, there are parishes in even greater need than we are. We have a number of priests in our archdiocese who are past retirement age (75) and still serving in pastoral assignments and others nearing retirement. Happily, the vocations picture is showing some small positive signs both nationally and locally. Our parish is blessed to have five men in the seminary and two young women in religious life. But it is simply not enough. To meet the current level of priest personnel in our archdiocese, we need to ordain seven a year to the priesthood. This figure covers deaths and retirements but does not calculate for current or future growth. Over the last twenty years, we have averaged fewer than four ordinations per year. So we must beg, all of us, with all our hearts.
In addition to begging the Lord and praying to Him for more workers for his harvest, I would also like to say to any young man who may be considering a priestly vocation or young woman considering a vocation to the consecrated life, “Do not be afraid!” If God is calling you, He knows what He is doing! Trust God! This is a truly wonderful life! Does it have it hardships? Sure. What life worth living doesn’t? Is it rewarding and fulfilling? More than you can ever imagine! Do you have to be perfect to become a priest or a sister? Of course not (all you have to do is look at me or any priest or sister). You do have to want to be better every day and want to follow Jesus more closely. Perfection is not required, but love is. God gives us the grace to do his will. Are the priesthood and religious life a sacrifice? Yes. As a life of sacrifice, we realize that we can never out do God in his generosity to us or out do the sacrifice of Jesus for us! Why did I become a priest? Simple, I wanted to love and serve God, do something meaningful with my life and be happy! But more importantly, I became a priest because God wanted me to be happy in loving and serving Him and His Church. What about you? Do you want to be happy? Do you want to do something meaningful with your life? Do you love God and have a desire to serve Him and the Church? Pray to Lord and ask Him to help you discern if you have a religious or priestly vocation. The ultimate question is not “What do I want?” It is “What does God want for me?” What God wants from us is simple, it is “Yes, I will follow you Lord!”
Vocations are everybody’s business! What about your son or brother as a priest, or your daughter or sister as a religious sister? What about your friend who shows the qualities of a religious vocation? Ask them, encourage them, pray for them. “The harvest is plenty but the laborers are few. So beg the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest!”
In Pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately