Friday, January 29, 2010

Archbishop Nienstedt: Nurturing More Priesthood Vocations

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One of the great statistics that I have enjoyed sharing with people is the fact that this archdiocese began the current academic year with 68 seminarians studying for the priesthood. There are 38 in the theologate and 30 in our college program.

I know of no other diocese in this country that can boast of such numbers. This is a great testimony to the vitality of the lived faith in the parishes of our archdiocese as well as to the personal investment of our priests and, in particular, my predecessor, Archbishop Harry Flynn, in the work of vocations.

We have two very fine seminary programs in St. John Vianney (College) Seminary and St. Paul (Theological) Seminary. It is my privilege to visit both houses once a month to celebrate the Holy Eucharist with them and to share a meal.

Frequently, I ask the men to tell me their vocation story. I am al­ways fascinated to hear what they have to say. Some, like me, can trace the first promptings of their call back to the strong faith of their families. It was there in the practice of attending Sunday Eucharist, in the daily recitation of prayer as well as in the example of virtuous living that the seed was planted and the desire began to grow.

Others may have toyed with the notion at one time or another and then forgotten about it. But later, due to some event or experience, the idea came back to them with greater clarity and attraction.

Still others never considered the idea, until one day they were literally blindsided by a conversation or a special insight that instantly informed them that God might be calling them.

Listening to these stories always confirms in my mind and heart that God is truly at work in our lives, inviting us in loving and caring ways to do his will.

Model behavior

One of the key instruments that God uses to call men to the priesthood is other priests. That was true in my life, and I think it is true in most cases. The way a priest celebrates the Mass, his care for his parishioners, his concern for religious instruction, his attention to the sick — all these attributes can spark a desire in the heart of another to be “just like Father.”

At a recent Clergy Day, Father James Mason, former vocation director for the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D., spoke to our deacons and priests on the topic of the priest as “Promoter of Vocations.”

Two things he said really stood out for me. First of all, in a national survey by Father Stephen Rosette, 92 percent of the priests surveyed said that they found fulfillment in their ministry. The New York Times did a completely independent survey and found that 91 percent of all priests were happy in their work. That is one incredibly high incidence of job satisfaction!

Second, Father Mason invited us to engage the imagination of young people, especially by letting them see the seminary firsthand. I guess my imagination was “engaged” as a boy when I “celebrated” Mass at home every week in a “re-enactment” of the Sacred Liturgy.

Young men can also become engaged by seeing the actual seminary space and meeting seminarians who are healthy, normal, dedicated individuals. I am grateful that St. John Vianney Seminary has their “Vianney Nights” the first Thursday of the month. They also are open to visits at other times as well. Again, I encourage our priests to bring young candidates to “come and see” (John 1:39) where the Lord may be calling them.

Call Father Peter Williams, our vocation director at (651) 962-6890, or St. John Vianney Seminary itself at (651) 962-6825 to find out more information.

Remember to pray

Lastly, I encourage all of us, as parish communities and as individuals, to pray for vocations to the priesthood at Sunday Mass, before meals, at meetings and other church gatherings.

More than that, I ask you to join me personally in fasting from meat on Fridays for this intention. I made the same request eight years ago in New Ulm and still maintain the practice today. Surely, God accepts this and other such practices as sacrifices pleasing to him. It also adds a sense of urgency to our prayers. Catholic Spirit
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