Sunday April 26th is the “World Day of Prayer for Vocations.” This day is set to remind us to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers out to the fields. I would like to reflect with my brother priests on how we can work together to bring more laborers to the priestly vocation.
When people find out that I am the Vocation Director for the Diocese of Des Moines, they look at me with sorrow in their face and say; “I’m sorry, that must be a hard job.” I assume that their sorrow is truly felt. However, I respond that I enjoy my ministry working with the youth to help them find their vocation in life. Then I tell them that the Church is young! To explain the young Church comment I tell stories of youth conferences, retreats, World Youth Days and other great events that minister to the youth of the diocese, country and the world. At these events, I am the old guy (I’m in my mid 40s). The Church is young!
Many people in the church worry about vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Some ask when the Church is going to change the rules to make it easier to be a priest or religious. Why are we waiting for rule changes? As St. John Paul II states in Pastores Dabo Vobis in regards to the vocations question; “The first answer which the Church gives lies in a total act of faith in the Holy Spirit. We are deeply convinced that this trusting abandonment will not disappoint if we remain faithful to the graces we have received.” PDV 1
With faith in our hearts we should be asking what we can do to help the youth hear God’s call.
Be a Shepherd of Souls
St. John Paul II was well known for his camping trips with the college students and young adults. On those adventures he spent joy filled time with his sheep. He talked to them about their joys, troubles and most importantly about their faith. These conversations were casual in nature, but were probably the best faith formation that these young people received. The youth started to call him “uncle” to hide from the secret police that he was a priest. The relationship of this pastor to his sheep was personal. The youth felt comfortable to talk to this priest, because he seemed interested in their lives. These adventures of St. John Paul II and the youth are a great example of the now famous quote of Pope Francis; “a pastor should smell like his sheep.”
Being a pastor of souls brings a desire for others to encounter Christ. We priests should have a desire to meet the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus, or a late night meeting with Nicodemus. These are our desires and hopefully the reason we became priests. These encounters feed us in our ministry and keep us motivated when bogged down in a finance meeting. We desire the encounter! We meet people in their homes, at their hospital beds, in their classrooms, or at their work. These encounters are bringing Christ to the people and being shepherds to the flock. We enjoy being a pastor of souls. We enjoy smelling like the sheep.
Be a Shepherd Who Invites
When we have this zeal to be pastors and start to smell like the sheep, we want others to join us. After an encounter with Christ, it is natural to ask the person, “so what is Christ calling you to do?” This is the easy inviting of vocation work. It is simple and easy to ask a young person who has encountered Christ in a beautiful way to reflect on where God is calling them. Once young people are invited, we water the seed of that invite with prayer.
Be a Shepherd Who Prays
The shepherd desires what is best for the sheep. A shepherd prays to the Lord to keep the flock safe, well fed with an abundance of flowing water. This is the prayer of all priests for their flocks. “Does not the Father want what is best for his child? Then even more so does the Father in Heaven.” Pray for the flock! Pray that they encounter Christ and have a desire to radically follow Him.
Fr. Joseph F. Pins is the Vocations Director for the Diocese of Des Moines, he has been in this ministry since January 2012. Fr. Pins was ordained to the priesthood on June 9, 2006. Fr. Pins has attended the Love and Responsibility, Philosophy of St. John Paul II courses and, serving as the chaplain, for the Writings of St. John Paul II on Gender, Marriage and Family course at the Theology of the Body Institute.