By REV. HENRY T. BARRON
Last month this column offered some fine articles by Msgr. James Carter, vicar general for the Diocese of Charleston. One of the themes emphasized by Msgr. Carter is the need to seek vocations to the priesthood from within our local church. We do not want to be too hasty in seeking candidates from foreign countries, and we certainly do not want to try to allure candidates from other dioceses that are experiencing their own shortage of vocations. Rather, we should be producing sufficient vocations from within our own local church.
In order to deal with the shortage of vocations, the bishops of the United States developed a plan for promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life, A Future Full of Hope. In light of the bishops’ plan and the goals set by the Synod of Charleston, the Diocese of Charleston has developed a comprehensive plan for nurturing and promoting vocations in the diocese. This plan was outlined in my letter to the editor of The New Catholic Miscellany a couple weeks ago (see “Letters to the Editor,” Jan. 21 issue).
This week I would like to share with readers the underlying principles guiding our plan for nurturing and promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the Diocese of Charleston.
The bishops of the United States have begun to emphasize the need to foster a culture of vocations. This is a new notion — a culture of vocations — and it will be key for the future of our church. We believe that every person has a vocation; i.e., a way of living our life in relationship to God and in service to God. There are a variety of vocations: married life, the single life, priesthood and religious life. Each of us is called to one of these vocations.
A vocation is rooted in a call from God — God calls us to a particular vocation and gives us the grace to live out that vocation faithfully and in a way that brings us fulfillment in life. Our task is to listen to the voice of God and discern our vocation. We need to teach our children that, more important than deciding our career path, we must discern the vocation to which God is calling us. Discerning one’s vocation is not a simple matter, it requires prayer and spiritual direction.
In promoting a culture of vocations, we seek to instill vocations awareness in all people. We want everyone to incorporate an awareness of vocations into their spiritual life. In some ways the process can be compared to that of promoting a spirituality of stewardship. In my parish, the Church of the Nativity, located on James Island in Charleston, we implemented stewardship as a way of life. We seek to make stewardship an aspect of our daily life. To do this, we embarked on a comprehensive program to nurture a spirituality of stewardship in our parishioners, to help them appreciate that stewardship is part and parcel of the Christian life. Some of the ways we seek to keep stewardship ever before us are: making it a regular feature in our religious education programs; having a “Stewardship Corner” in our weekly bulletin; regular incorporation of stewardship themes in homilies; and saying a prayer for stewardship at all Sunday Masses. We seek to make stewardship an element of all aspects of parish life. If we are to promote a culture of vocations, we need to implement a comprehensive plan for nurturing vocations awareness similar to the plan for implementing stewardship awareness I just described.
In order to promote a culture of vocations, we want to make vocations awareness an aspect of every organization and ministry in the Diocese of Charleston. Everyone has a responsibility for promoting vocations awareness. All diocesan organizations should take an interest in promoting vocations awareness. Every parish should have a Vocations Committee. Every priest should see himself as the vocations director of his parish. All parents should appreciate their role in promoting vocations awareness in their children.
It is important that we recognize that there is a vocations crisis. All vocations are in crisis: the vocation of marriage is as much in crisis as is the vocations to priesthood and religious life. What is needed is a culture of vocations that celebrates all vocations, recognizes that each and every one of us is called to a vocation, engages everyone in the ministry of promoting vocations awareness and provides the tools to assist people in discerning their vocation.
If we establish a culture of vocations, the vocations crisis will disappear and we will have an abundance of vocations blossom forth from within our own local church. Many people, many parishes and many diocesan organizations are already taking seriously the need to promote vocations awareness; we need to do much more. I encourage you to prayerfully consider how you can use your position in life, and your gifts and talents, to promote vocations awareness.
Father Henry T. Barron is vicar of vocations for the Diocese of Charleston and pastor of Church of the Nativity on James Island.