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BRIGHTON — In a Jan. 21 pastoral letter on Vocations, Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley makes a spirited plea to all Catholics in the archdiocese to mobilize in the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
“Priestly Vocations are everyone’s business,” the archbishop states in his pastoral letter. “If you are a Catholic, you have a huge stake in the priesthood and vocations.”
The Eucharist defines us as Catholics, the archbishop says, and Christ’s command to celebrate it — “Do this in memory of me” — “obliges us to promote priestly vocations so that the Eucharist can be celebrated.”
In the letter, printed in this week’s edition of The Pilot [See page 9], the archbishop requests that every parish celebrate the Forty Hours of Eucharistic Adoration with a particular emphasis on prayer for vocations.
The archbishop also urges every parish to establish a vocation committee before the end of the eucharistic year that “will help develop parish strategies for promoting vocations and engage the entire community in this endeavor.”
In an interview with The Pilot, the archbishop explained that the promotion of vocations is one of his top priorities. Since he arrived in Boston, he has assigned a second priest to work full-time at the Vocation Office, and he is planning to appoint another two priests to work part-time for the office.
The archbishop is also forming a diocesan team of lay people, religious and deacons who will work together with the Vocation Office. One of the tasks of that team will be to train the new parish vocation committees called for in the pastoral letter.
Those committees will organize liturgies, help young people to understand the meaning of a vocation and help identify possible candidates to the priesthood and religious life in each parish, the archbishop said.
The pastoral letter describes the process of vocational discernment as well as the requirements to become a candidate for the priesthood. It invites potential candidates not to be “overwhelmed by a sense of unworthiness.”
“Obviously, no one is worthy to be a priest,” he says. “A vocation is not a reward for a virtuous life, but does presuppose a conversion of heart and a spiritual journey that begins with repentance and a commitment to ongoing growth in the spiritual life.”
In his letter, the archbishop emphasizes the importance of the families, schools, parishes and priests in encouraging vocations.
He stresses the importance of family prayer and asks parents to be open to a child’s possible vocation to the priesthood or religious life.
“Parents receive their children from God and must be willing to give them back to God for service of His people,” he says. “In faith, parents need to understand that their children’s true happiness depends on a generous response to God’s call and that God is never outdone in generosity and love.”
In the letter, the archbishop also pays tribute to the work that religious women played in nurturing the vocations of Catholic youth.
“I don’t think anyone could come in contact with ‘the Sisters’ and not consider the possibility of a vocation to Priesthood or religious life,” he says.
The archbishop notes that the Church today can no longer count on large numbers of religious women to educate the young. Lay teachers have primarily assumed that role and the archbishop asks them “to speak specifically about the consecrated life and diocesan priesthood with our young Catholics.”
A section of the pastoral letter is devoted to the “special responsibility” priests have to promote vocations.
Priests must speak of vocations in their homilies and during visits to religious-education classes, parish schools and youth ministry programs, he says.
The archbishop notes the importance of priestly fraternity to the promotion of vocations. “Our Catholic people are always disappointed to see disunity among priests and bishops,” he says.
“The more a priest is in touch with the gift and the mystery of the priesthood, the more his life is an invitation to others to follow Christ in the same way.”
Asked about the impact that the sexual abuse crisis may be having on men considering a vocation, the archbishop said that the recent scandal has besmirched the image of the priesthood. However, at the same time “Catholics all know good and holy priests and know how important they are for the mission of the Church,” he said.
The archbishop said that even if there is less “prestige” in becoming a priest, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Those pursuing a vocation may have to do so “even though it’s not going to be universally applauded by friends and society,” he said.
“It might be that the motivation that brings these men for the priesthood will be purified and will be more generous and will be more of a faith commitment,” the archbishop continued.
This is the second pastoral letter Archbishop O’Malley has published as Archbishop of Boston. Last October, he issued a pastoral letter on the Year of the Eucharist.
This pastoral letter is adapted from a Jubilee Year letter the archbishop authored while he was bishop of the Fall River Diocese. “A lot of those ideas are still valid and [the letter] has been refocused on the eucharistic year,” he told The Pilot.
In his letter, the archbishop reflects on the Gospel passage of the rich young man who declines to follow Christ’s call because of his riches, comparing that refusal with calls to the priesthood that go unanswered.
“I wish I could have been there to say to him, ‘Not so fast, give God a chance, trust Him, don’t go away sad – embrace your vocation and find true happiness.’”