Dear brothers and sisters,
May the Lord give you peace!
As you know, Bishop Paprocki gathered with the priests of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois this past week for our annual Convocation. It was a time to reflect on ways we can renew our preaching and a time for us to visit and reconnect with each other.
In the midst of the Convocation I was called to Springfield to visit a parishioner in the hospital. I mentioned to a few priests the situation and excused myself from the sessions and readily made the drive to for this pastoral visit.
As I drove the short trip from Decatur to Springfield it occurred to me that I was about the only priest in the Diocese not gathered in Decatur (some of our retired and elderly priests did not attend the Convocation, for reasons of health). It was a strange and discomforting thought; while it is necessary for priests to gather together for prayer, study and fellowship from time to time, my thoughts that morning seemed somewhat ominous of the future that may be ours: we may well be facing a not too distant future where priests are spread thin, both geographically and in terms of the time they will have for pastoral work, which brings me to the purpose of these words.
On Saturday, October 16th, the Office for Vocations is sponsoring a “Thinking of Priesthood Day” to help young men (juniors in high school or older) consider whether or not the Lord is calling them to priestly service. As of this Tuesday evening, 35 invitations have been sent to young men across the Diocese who have either voiced interest in the priesthood themselves or who have been recommend by others; I submitted three of the names and will soon send in another.
At a recent meeting of the Region 12 Planning Committee, one of the members said, “The Church needs to do more about vocations.” I responded quickly and passionately with the same questions I recently posed to you in one of my homilies: When was the last time you fervently begged the Lord for more priests? When was the last time you actively encouraged a young man to think about the priesthood? How many future priests have been contracepted, aborted or actively discouraged over the past forty years? Priests do not simply fall out of heaven; they arise from within families of faith.
The Church is doing what she can to encourage young men to answer the Lord’s call with generosity and courage; we know with certainty that the Lord has not stopped calling men to his service. It is, rather, that those who are being called are not answering his call, often times because of a perceived lack of support from their families and friends. What have you done for vocations lately? The Knights of Columbus are right: Vocations are everybody’s business.
I answered the call of the Lord because of the support of my fellow parishioners who repeatedly encouraged me to think about the priesthood; without their encouragement, I do not think I would have seriously considered the priesthood. Because of their support, I have found the Lord’s will for my life.
Won’t you do the same for another young man? If you know a young man whom the Lord might be calling to his service, encourage him to consider the priesthood. Give me his name and address and I will get him an invitation to the Thinking of Priesthood Day. The Lord wants to give us the priests we need, but we must cooperate with the grace he gives. May the Lord raise up from within our pastoral unit many priests who will dedicate their lives to him with joy and zeal.