Called to holiness: Creating a Culture of Vocations

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The work of envisioning and pastoral planning is about to reach a significant juncture in the nearly year long process of 2016, that is, the unveiling of the Mission and Vision statements, the three Pastoral Priorities and their specific Goals for the next two years.
It has been an inspiring grassroots project and the Envisioning Team will have met for the seventh day-long session earlier this week to further refine, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what will be our direction as a diocese for the years ahead. Of course, the next stage is often the most difficult as we dedicate our efforts to implementation in the new year.
Under the umbrella of one of our pastoral priorities: to form life long intentional disciples, is the promotion of a culture of vocations. What does this mean? This issue of Mississippi Catholic is dedicated to vocations and immediately this can elicit for Catholics the traditional line of understanding, i.e. the ordained and consecrated life. But as the Holy Spirit leads us to the plateau of the second millennium of Christianity we are so much more aware that the Lord Jesus calls all who are baptized in life giving waters to follow him throughout their lives as his disciples.
This universal call to holiness under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, with the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father and in the life of the Church, is the foundation for a culture of vocations. Ordained and religious vocations will emerge from this fertile field.
The seed of faith begun in Baptism, God’s life, the promise of eternal life, is to be nurtured and not neglected, at each stage of our lives. The early years, of course, are like a cornerstone and often provide the guiding light of faith within the family and then further nurtured in parishes, schools and in various ministries. At this stage a young boy or girl is introduced to prayer and the Bible, traditional Catholic devotions and especially the Eucharist, the Mass.
Like sponges a child and teenager can see the faith and goodness at work in the lives of older generations in their lives and these living witnesses will strengthen their experience of the living presence of God in our world. This is the fertile field of the seed of faith falling on good soil. But the obstacles revealed in the Lord’s parable of the Sower and the Seed is just as relevant in our post modern world as it was when he told it from a fisherman’s boat on the sea of Galilee in the ancient world.
The seed of faith can land on the path and can easily be trampled by the busyness of life. The seed can land also on rocks and without the possibility of laying down roots, it is burned up by the heat of the day, which is the inevitable suffering in this world, as well as the not infrequent persecution and hostility directed against the Lord’s disciples.
Furthermore, the seed can fall among thorns and daily anxieties and fears, along with the lure of riches and material well being, can also choke the living Word. But even in the harshest climate life can endure and we believe that nothing is impossible for God because where there is life there is hope.
The Lord calls us to persevere and create those gardens and cultures of faith in our families, parishes, schools and ministries, so that we can be life-long intentional disciples where vocations can flourish.
It requires communities of disciples to pray for and encourage vocations in every age. Vocations to the ordained and consecrated life remain a viable and critically important way to serve the Lord Jesus in our time. For more than a century, beginning in the 1850s, larger immigrant families produced many vocations for the priesthood and religious life. With the dawn of the modern world and for the past half century there have been seismic upheavals in the secular and religious realms calling into question all traditional values.
In fact, now more than ever we need disciples of the Lord who choose to be celibate for the sake of the Kingdom of God. When lived fully and faithfully the ordained and religious are living witnesses to eternal life. For sure, Jesus came to give us abundant life now, but always with a view toward eternity.
The hallmark of the celibate state is love for Jesus Christ and the space allowed for God to be embodied uniquely in this world. Never is it to be an escape from this world, or a state of mind that looks upon married love and children as a lower caste. Rather, it is a way of life that allows one the freedom to balance contemplation and action in loving service to the Lord in the Church and in the world in a life long commitment, mirroring the love of Jesus Christ who is not yes today and no tomorrow.
His love is faithful and permanent. This is a value that the modern world struggles to grasp when everything is relative and temporary. The life long commitment of the ordained and religious is an anchor the modern world which is easily tossed about in the winds of change.
A vocation in the Lord’s service according to God’s plan for our lives is our daily peace and purpose and the promise of eternal life. Just last week after 108 years the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. In the middle of it all stood Father Burke Masters, a Catholic priest of the Diocese of Jolliet and a former baseball standout at Mississippi State with a promising professional baseball career.
A great moment in time for him and the Cubs franchise, for sure, but he is working in a daily field of dreams as he serves in the Lord’s vineyard in the parish, in vocation work and at the ballpark, a blessing far beyond this world’s successes.
For me, by God’s grace and the prayers of many, I embrace my vocation as a labor of love on a field of dreams. Blessings abound. “Love one another as I have loved you and my joy will be yours and your joy will be complete” is the peace that the world cannot give.
Pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, encourage them in your families and walk faithfully with the Lord in the land of the living.