As the director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, it can be an overwhelming and daunting task promoting vocations to the priesthood in a diocese of this size. I realized quickly that I needed to mobilize my brother priests to create a culture of vocation awareness in the parishes, schools and families. We are all vocation promoters with countless opportunities to tell the stories of heroic priests who have paved the way of faith by dedicating their lives promoting the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
While the seed of my vocation to the priesthood was nurtured by my parents, it was inspired by an amazingly holy and humble priest, Msgr. John Cremins, who was a chaplain at my high school. He embodied the priesthood of Jesus Christ by his actions, love for the Church and humanity. One holy monsignor inspired eight men to respond to God’s call and be ordained to the priesthood. Like him, we can continue inspiring men by working together sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
One year ago, Vin Scully, the Hall of Fame announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, retired after 67 years of calling Dodger baseball. His gift was to see and call the great game of baseball through the lens of faith, humanity and storytelling. As a Dodger fan since Little League, it was the honor of a lifetime to concelebrate a Mass in the Dodger press room on the Sunday of his very last broadcast. As all the cameras and attention was directed at him, Vin Scully asked us to offer the Mass for the families of Jose Fernandez, the pitcher for the Florida Marlins, and his friends who had been tragically killed in a boating accident hours before. Priesthood is telling the story of humanity, walking with people in their time of need, avoiding the lights and attention while staying focused on Jesus Christ and the Eucharist.
What can priests do to help promote priestly and religious vocations? I suggest that we call the game of life through the lens of faith in Jesus Christ, to see the humanity of the people and most importantly to tell the stories of our Catholic tradition. I would like to suggest five simple ideas to help promote vocations to the priesthood:
1. Identify: Approach promoting vocations with open eyes, identifying men who radiate a genuine love for Jesus and his Church. Identify someone who expresses a zeal and passion for living the Gospel and who possesses the qualities you deem important for priesthood.
2. Invite: Be bold in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and your love for the priesthood. Personally invite, by name, a man who likewise expresses an authentic joy in being a disciple of Jesus.
3. Invest: Show interest in the individual’s life and engage with a man discerning the priesthood by inviting him to see a glimpse into your daily life. Accompany him on the road of discernment by being honest and open in sharing your hopes and fears. Be real and honest with a man in discernment, and pray with him, especially reflecting on the word of God.
4. Be present: The most effective way to participate in the work of vocations simply is to show up at events where Catholics gather. Be present to the moment and actively listen to the stories of the people. Most importantly, do not be afraid to ask the question: “Have you ever thought about being a priest or religious?” It will plant a seed or a thought that will perhaps yield fruit in the future. If you do not ask the question, it is a missed moment of grace that might be the spark of a future vocation.
5. Pray: Spend time before our Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and pray for the person who is in discernment by name. Invite a man discerning the priesthood to dinner and together reflect upon a Scripture reading that speaks to the call from God. Mentoring a young man in prayer bears spiritual fruit in one’s personal prayer and creates a spiritual bond with a discerning heart.
Importance of Prayer
The above five ideas are not revolutionary; rather, they are quite ordinary. Jesus Christ entered into a personal relationship with humanity and was not afraid to call by name men and women to follow him. He loved them and guided them along a path to an adventurous and fulfilling life. All priests are called by God to continue calling forth men and women to an authentic discernment to serve God and his Church as priests, deacons, religious sisters or to the consecrated life. Prayer is at the root of all discernment, so a priest’s primary role in helping others to hear God’s call is for them to enter into prayerful solitude with someone who is searching for enlightenment.
Before answering God’s call to the priesthood, I was answering 911 emergency calls as a police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. I loved my work, because helping others in a time of need gave meaning and purpose to my life. In witnessing firsthand some tragic and violent parts of humanity, my faith in a loving God faced challenges, but at the same time it grew deeper and more personal. In the messiness of humanity, I heard God’s voice say, “Come follow me,” and I was guided by the voice of a priest who walked with me in my discernment. He answered the call to journey with me on the path to priesthood. Like him, we as brothers and sisters in Christ are called to witness to others the love and care of Jesus.
The priesthood is a beautiful life. Priests can foster a culture of vocations in our parishes, schools and most importantly in our homes by expressing and sharing the joy of their call to serve as a priest of Jesus Christ. This joy will be infectious and will open the eyes and hearts of all those discerning their vocation.
It is an honor to accompany men in discernment and to hear their stories. I think of my high school days attending Bishop Amat High School near Los Angeles as a blessing, seeing how Msgr. Cremins inspired eight men to become priests and continue the story of Jesus Christ through the sacramental life of the Church. It is now up to each of us to tell the stories of heroic priests, so we can continue the mission of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
FATHER STEPHEN DAVOREN is director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
|Have Doubts? Turn to Scripture
Almost everyone discerning a vocation to the priesthood will have questions and doubts. God has the answers. Here are some common doubts and concerns about exploring a vocation to the priesthood, along with reassuring Scripture verses.
“I’m not holy enough.”
Luke 5:1-11: “When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.”
“I’m afraid I will fail.”
John 15:1-17: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.”
“I’ve made mistakes.”
Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions.”
“I want to have a family.”
Matthew 12:46-50: “For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
“I’m afraid of public speaking.”
Exodus 4:10-12: “Now go, I will assist you in speaking and teach you what you are to say.”
“I’m afraid of being alone.”
Matthew 28:16-20: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
“I want to be happy.”
Matthew 5:1-12: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
“I’m filled with fear.”
Isaiah 41:10-13: “For I am the Lord, your God, who grasp your right hand; It is I who say to you, Do not fear, I will help you.”