By Nick Adam
As the seminary academic year draws near, it is a good time to reflect on the culture of vocations that is being cultivated in the Diocese of Jackson. This is one of the intended outcomes of the pastoral plan that is being rolled out in the Diocese in this our 180th year of ministry. Right now, we have 11 seminarians studying to be priests, but a look at the recent data released in this publication tells us that we are already facing a major clergy shortage, especially “home grown” vocations.
This hit home to me, literally, this past month. As a transitional deacon, I have an active role in the sacramental life of the parish, but I do not have the faculties to celebrate Mass. When my pastor took a well-earned vacation, we were unable to have daily Mass because there were simply no other priests available, and this was right in the middle of the metro area! I joked with the staff that I could do vocation talks during our usual Mass time, but then I really began to ponder the great challenge that faces us.
It is my prayer that our pastoral priority of inspiring intentional disciples will lead all of us to take an active role in promoting vocations. The most vital role will be in the home, with parents who love their faith and present priesthood and religious life as viable options to their children. Promotion must continue into parish life, with priests who are faithful and inspiring in their words and actions, and it will extend to our Catholic schools where religious vocations, for both men and women, are highlighted.
Priesthood and religious life is not a vow to boredom or unfulfilled potential. For those who are called it is the most joyful way of life you could imagine. I have loved every minute of my five-plus years in the seminary, and my first summer as an ordained minister has been incredibly fulfilling and life-giving. Every day I come into the office a new challenge is presented, and every day God gives me the grace to meet that challenge and to grow into a better version of myself.
Priesthood and religious life is very attractive to young people today. Our youth want to be challenged to grow beyond the limits that society tries to put on them. They search for new, innovative ways to solve problems and they enjoy being challenged by new ideas. My seminary formation has helped to be a more courageous person and to extend myself beyond the limits that I had formed for myself. I thought that I “knew it all” before entering the seminary, but after two years of philosophy studies, I quickly learned that I did not, and I have been blessed with a world class education that would prepare anyone for success, whether they make it to ordination or not.
There are two agents in the discernment process: the individual and the Church. A young man or woman may believe they are called, or may have an inkling they are called, but if they are not called forth by the Church, they could miss out. It is also very possible that a young man or young woman may have never considered religious life, and your prompting may give them the opportunity to ponder their gifts and talents and realize that God is calling them to this way of life.
I keep speaking about young men and young women because I realize that the vocation crisis that we face goes both ways. In fact, the crisis that women religious face may be even more daunting. There are many theories out there about what has brought about the shortage of nuns in the Church, but I would simply plead for action from us as a diocese. There are female religious orders in our own country that are thriving, and so again, this is a viable, life-giving option. There are also incredible examples of service and faith that are right in our midst. The Springfield Dominican sisters have founded and run one of the biggest hospitals in the state of Mississippi. The presence and ministry of St. Dominic Hospital is truly a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and it is sitting right at the intersection of I-20 and I-55! This is the kind of work that God can do when we are open to it.
As we continue to roll out our Pastoral Plan, consider this an encouragement to inspire intentional disciples in an intentional way. Look up some of the religious orders around the country and think about some young women that could be interested, or who have the necessary gifts to thrive in that environment. Check out the website of St. Joseph Seminary College (www.sjasc.edu) and Notre Dame Seminary (www.nds.edu), and check out what is happening at these incredible institutions. Most of all, encourage our young people to think about religious life. For those of us that have experienced God’s work in religious formation, we can attest that it is an incredible gift to do God’s work.
(Deacon Nick Adam is currently on staff at Jackson St. Richard.)