There is no quick fix to any big issue. Good solutions require good planning and execution. This means we must put a good plan in place for priestly formation in this diocese and then execute the plan. I may have mentioned in this space that this past summer, Director of Seminarians Father Aaron Williams and I attended the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors. It was pretty overwhelming at first. We went to conference after conference where information was flying faster than a weekday homily. I was inspired and somewhat intimidated by what I learned. There are so many great ideas floating around out there, but which of the practices could be implemented in our diocese?
I left that conference with a goal. I want to dig a trench before trying to install a pipeline. A rise in priestly vocations does not happen overnight. But we have to start with the fundamentals. We have to build a strong foundation of accompaniment, collaboration and formation. I want to explore these three preparatory parts of the “pipeline” as 2020 nears.
Accompaniment is listed first because for a trench to form, we have to dig. We have to move raw material, change the lay of the land and make space for something greater. The raw material that I have the responsibility and joy to work with are young men who are seeking to follow God’s will and are open to the possibility that God may be calling them to serve as a priest. Young men first of all need priests and parish leaders to accompany them in their journey to the seminary. Pastors, parochial vicars and retirees alike must be willing to encourage, answer questions and show our priesthood to them. One of the ways to do this is by offering young men a place in the liturgy. I have trained several MCs who serve in liturgies at St. Richard. They may have never been an altar server, but MCs are seen as role models for the younger kids and they help to keep the liturgy running smoothly for the priest celebrant. Of course, not every parish in our diocese has a resident priest-pastor, and I encourage LEMs and other parish leaders to identify young men who seem to want to go deeper in their faith and walk with them. Ask them if they’ve ever considered being a priest, so often that’s all it takes to allow God to gain a foothold in a young man’s heart. And remember, seminary does not equal priesthood! The seminary is simply the place to best discern whether one is called to be a priest and entry into seminary does not mean that the candidate is now obligated to advance to ordination.
Accompaniment, however, stretches beyond the parish and into the family of a young man. Are parents willing to open a discussion with a child about the possibility of priesthood? Do they regularly make it clear that they would love to have a priest in the family? Families are the seedbed of vocations. If parents actively encourage their sons to consider priesthood, vocations can flourish. If, however, priesthood is never brought up, or indeed, if faith is rarely made manifest outside of Church on Sunday, then our efforts at accompaniment could fall short. Again, I can only share my experience. My time in the seminary was the best six years of my life. I learned more about myself and the world then I could have ever imagined. I am willing to accompany young men on the road to priesthood and I pray that priests, parish leaders and parents in our diocese are just as willing. There are no quick fixes, but accompaniment is the first step to building a pipeline that will provide priests in Mississippi for the next generation.
Friday, Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2020 – Annual Notre Dame Pre-Discernment trip. Open to men of any age who are open to a call to priesthood, we will spend three days on the campus of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.
Contact the Office of Vocations if interested in attending any of these events.