We are in the midst of National Vocations Awareness Week in the United States. It began last Sunday. It is an opportunity to reflect upon what a vocation to the priesthood or religious life is, and why so few respond to the call today.
I come from a different generation. In the pre-Vatican II days of my youth, priesthood was seen more as a higher calling, which it still is. There was a mysterious, other worldliness about the role of priest that is no less true today even though it is not often perceived in that way. The pride of having a priest in the family was a source of encouragement.
I always wanted to be a priest. Earliest memories go back to kindergarten ... "playing" priest with candy wafers - performing the old asperges (rite of sprinkling) in grandma's back yard [centered sidewalk] with blanket as cope and clothespin as sprinkler. All through grade school the Sisters encouraged and my family supported my choice. It was natural to "take the test" for entrance in the minor seminary program, which I did with a number of other guys from my class in seventh grade. I was the only one to go from our parish the next year, although we had a number already in the seminary program. Where they would send me was the question ... answered when I was sent to Saint Vincent Prep School in Latrobe as part of the initial group that would establish Saint Joseph Hall Minor Seminary Residence, with classes at Vincent's. Thus at the age of 13 I was off on my journey.
My reasons for wanting to be a priest were way off base in the beginning. But that is what seminary is all about, testing, and maturing, and developing as the Call becomes clearer and the meaning of priesthood grew from a self centeredness to other centeredness. Throughout the process, I had the love and support of family, friends, parish and the Church. Twelve years later I knelt before the bishop as he laid hands on my head and I received the Holy Spirit through Orders. Forty years from that moment I write this post and celebrate this priesthood, ever grateful for that love and support, ever grateful for the growth and development that has taken place in my life, and most grateful for the Call, which ultimately comes from God.
Today the distractions are everywhere, the encouragement is much less, the prayerful support slowly growing once again, and because of the scandals of the past the image is a little tarnished. Fewer men are hearing the Call, or at least responding to the Call. We continue to pray. We continue to see the priest for what he is to be - a man of service to God and the Church. We continue to live in hope. And we continue to rejoice in the men who are looking into the Call, those in our diocesan seminary program. Pray for vocations ... and pray for priests.