Many of you may not know, but today is the day designated by the Church as a “World Day of Prayer for Vocations.” Prayers for vocations to the permanent diaconate, the priesthood and the consecrated religious life are not only encouraged, but also prayed for in a special way this day. Hopefully, we all know that all of us have vocations given to us by God, some are to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, some to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, some to be consecrated religious sisters or brothers, some to consecrated virginity, some to other forms of lay consecration and some to the single life. All of these vocations have beauty in them and are callings from God, but today we pray and intercede for religious vocations, because they are such an important part in the Jesus’s ongoing salvation of souls and ministry for the Church.
Around this vast Catholic world, the number of priestly vocations has been fairly steadily on the rise, while in Western Culture and in the United States, specifically, the trend for priestly vocations is more slowly lagging behind the rest of the world. The numbers in female religious orders have been steadily declining the last 40 years or so, while some specific orders have been steadily progressing. However, male religious orders are fairing much worse than the female orders, generally speaking. We need to pray and sacrifice for these trends to be reversed. As laity, you need priests and consecrated religious to teach your children in Catholic schools and take care of and visit the sick in nursing homes and hospitals. Without priests there is no forgiveness of sins and consecration of the Holy Eucharist.
In todays First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles chapter 13 it states, “I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” Here St. Paul is quoting the prophet Isaiah 49:6. St. Paul is contending that Jesus, the “Servant,” continues His redemptive mission through His servants the apostles, and hence, bishops and priests, who are to enlighten the Gentiles and all the earth. While it is wonderful and, in some parts of the world, necessary, to have lay missionaries do marvelous ministry throughout the world, especially where there are very few priests, they cannot forgive people’s sins nor give them the Holy Eucharist unless we have priests. Priests are also endowed with special gifts of healing, due to their ordination, not just while administering the Anointing of the Sick, but their hands are consecrated to heal, because their souls are configured more deeply to Christ through Holy Orders. Collaboration between the clergy and laity, which Vatican II promoted, is a great gift to the Church, which we need to foster through greater understanding and mutual love. Priests are more than just sacramental dispensers and consecrated religious man and women are more than just teachers, principals or social workers. They are specially called from among the common priesthood to bring Christ to all of us in a unique and more profound way. Without our support, sacrifices and prayers, they cannot possibly accomplish the mission God has entrusted to them for the Church. In the same way, we all need to offer our prayerful support of the vocational calling of married people.
The Second Reading from the Book of Revelation seems very prophetic for our modern times, because we are in a time of “great distress,” due in part to the lack of priestly and religious vocations. Pope St. John Paul II beautifully reflects on “continence for the Kingdom of Heaven,” in this profound catechesis called, “Men and Women He Created Them-A Theology of the Body.” In fourteen Wednesday general audiences throughout the summer of 1982, the late saintly Holy Father affirmed the stunningly beautiful Catholic vision of Christian celibacy living out of the truth of the fullness of human sexuality. The Pope reflected on the words of our Savior Jesus as He stated in Matthew 19:12: “for there are eunuchs who have been from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Those who live celibate lives don’t renounce earthly marriage as a bad or evil, or children as a bothersome, expensive, burden, but bypass the beautiful Sacrament of Matrimony, because they are called to witness to Christ and be married to Him and the Church in a more profound way. Pope St. John Paul II says in TOB 74:1 that celibacy has a “voluntary and supernatural nature.” They point to the reality of the “spousal relationship between Christ and the Church.” (TOB 79:7) This is part of the “white martyrdom” St. Paul is describing that celibates can offer to the Lord for the ongoing salvation of the world.
As the Gospel of John, chapter 10 states: All here are “sheep” of the Lord and ought to hear His voice and follow Him in the vocation He is calling them to: love. All are called to love and be married, but to which marriage are you called to embrace on earth? All are to be signs of the love Christ has for His Church and the dynamic life-giving love within the Blessed Trinity. I will finish with these few lines by Pope St. John Paul II “the perfection of the Christian life is measured, rather, by…love.” (TOB 78:3) Regardless of the marriage we are called to, “celibacy for the Kingdom” or the Sacrament of Matrimony, both must be lived in love and are complementary to each other – they are meant to “explain or complete each other.” (TOB 78:2) Christopher West correctly states in his reflection on TOB that: “marriage reveals the spousal character of the celibate vocation just as the celibate vocation reveals the sacramentality of marriage.”
Today we pray in a special way for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life as a “sign” that there is indeed something and someone beyond the sacraments – Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.
Father Tom DeSimone was ordained a priest on May 13, 2006, the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. He most recently served as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in White Plains, NY. He joins the staff of the Theology of the Body Institute on a three year leave from the Archdiocese of New York, to become the Institute’s first ever full time spiritual advisor and Director of Clergy Development.