Every year, following the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Church in the United States celebrates National Vocation Awareness Week , this year from January 10-16. This week is set aside to call to mind that we all have a vocation to fulfill. We all have been given a calling by God, first to holiness, then to a specific vocation to live out our relationship with God in the midst of the world and the Church.
Normally for this week, the Vocation Office publishes materials guided by this ‘Universal Call to Holiness,’ as it was called by the Second Vatican Council. However, this being the ‘Year for Priests,’ as dedicated by Pope Benedict XVI, we have taken the liberty to focus our efforts on the unique call to the ministerial priesthood: those men who have been called by Christ to lay down their lives so that their brothers and sisters in Christ might receive a share in Jesus’ Divine Life.
In the priesthood, we see one way that Jesus fulfills the promise made at the end of the Gospel according to Matthew: “Behold, I am with you always, even until the end of the age. (28:20)” For when we look to the priest, we see not just him, but we see Christ through him: through his leading us in the Sacraments, through his preaching and teaching the ways of faith, and through his governance of a small portion of God’s faithful entrusted to his care. In all these things, the priest acts in persona Christi , and leads the faithful to also be images of Christ, present and active in the world.
Strangely enough, as the world has moved further into a post-Christian mentality, the need for priests is greater than ever before. Echoing St. Augustine’s great line that our hearts are restless until they rest in God, the world cries out for the transcendent. Even the staunchest atheist knows at the depth of the soul that there is more to this world than meets the eye; and the priest, by his mere presence in this world, harkens to this reality.
In fact, this is at least part of the theological reason that our priests are celibate, for celibacy is an eschatological sign of the Kingdom to come. It is a physical representation of what we will all be in heaven: completely dedicated to God.
However, there are many distractions and temptations that can prevent the priest from fulfilling his God-given mandate. Because of what the priest represents, the Evil One can work overtime to get him to lose hope, to despair that God can work through him, a sinner, hence the importance of praying for your priest. He is your father in faith, pray for his guidance, for his holiness, for his leadership that he might lead us all closer to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Finally, it is the responsibility of all the faithful to encourage vocations to the priesthood, to be on the lookout among the upcoming generations for those characteristics and traits that would make for a good priest, and to offer a simple invitation to that young man to consider the possibility of the priesthood.
On January 27, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary is hosting a ‘Vocation Evening,’ inviting young men, college age and older, who think they might have a vocation to the priesthood to join our seminary community for the evening. If you, or someone you know, has thought about the priesthood, what better time to respond than during this Year for Priests!
For more information on the Vocation Night, on the priesthood, or how you might support the priests in your parish, please visit www.cincinnativocations.org.