Vocations a family effort

By Fr. Matthew Simmons
“Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.” These words of Jesus in the gospel according to St. Matthew give us direction in promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

The Church has set aside the Fourth Sunday of Easter each year, Good Shepherd Sunday, as a World Day of Prayer for Vocations. You will find that focus on vocations reflected in the liturgy of Good Shepherd Sunday. Prayers of the faithful focus on vocations and on the shepherding aspect of the priesthood.

Pope Francis has said, “A vocation flows from the heart of God and blossoms in the good soil of faithful people.” Vocations come from our own families. When we pray for vocations, we are open to a response from the children of our own families. This year, the Fourth Sunday of Easter falls on May 11, which is also Mother’s Day.

Pope St. Pius X said, “Every vocation to the priesthood comes from the heart of God, but it passes through the heart of a mother.” A mother’s encouragement of a vocation to the priesthood or religious life is invaluable. However, I always equally emphasize the importance of fathers in encouraging vocations. Since a priest is to be a spiritual father in the parish, the fathers of prospective priests have a great responsibility. Happily, I do find many fathers saying in the presence of their sons, “I do encourage him to think about being a priest.” I feel certain that they would be equally happy to see their daughters discern a vocation to religious life.

We know that God desires our happiness even more than we do. So you parents can understand that God desires your child to be happy even more than you do. The Church does not pressure men and women but invites them to enter into discernment. That time of discernment and prayer continues in the formation of seminary or the novitiate.

We are blessed to have a group of healthy and happy young men studying for the priesthood. There are others in the diocese discerning entry into religious life. As Mississippi Catholic noted last fall, St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington had its highest enrollment in the past 30 years.

At Abbey Youth Fest and similar events, we see an increased willingness among young people to talk about priestly and religious vocations. Pope John Paul II wrote, “Young people, if they can be taught how to pray, can be trusted to know what to do with God’s call.” It is our responsibility as disciples of Christ to teach them to pray by our example and to pray for them on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

(Father Matthew Simmons is the diocesan director of vocations. He can be reached at 601-960-8484 or matthew.simmons@jacksondiocese.org)