May 3, 1998
Of the many images of Christ which are given to us in Sacred Scripture, the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd is one of the most revered. Who among us is not moved by the tenderness with which Christ cares for his flock, a flock which knows his voice and follows Him with confidence? Christ the Good Shepherd seeks us out and leads us safely home to the Father.
It is most appropriate, then, that Good Shepherd Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, has been observed for thirty five years as the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Beginning with the pontificate of Pope Paul VI, this day has been observed annually as a day on which the whole Church is invited to reflect upon the way that Christ continues to shepherd his people. And, we are urged to offer fervent prayers for vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and consecrated religious life.
I find this Good Shepherd Sunday to be a most appropriate occasion to issue my own pastoral letter on prayer for vocations. As we celebrate this World Day of Prayer for Vocations within the context of our preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, it is important for us to come to a renewed appreciation of the ministry of service to which priests, deacons, and religious are called in our Diocesan Church. We look ahead with hope and confidence to the new millennium in which will be seen a strengthening of the servant leadership offered to the Church by those men and women who, like the Mother of the Lord, give wholehearted service to God and his people.
Fundamental to what we believe about Christian life is that every baptized believer has a vocation to bring the Gospel of Christ to the world. The Magisterium of the Church teaches us that all the baptized, "by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood [Constitution on the Church, #10]," so that, through all their works, Christian men and women may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into his marvelous light. How blessed, indeed, are we in this Diocesan Church with so many having taken seriously their mission to bring the redeeming and sanctifying presence of Christ to the world!
From among his priestly people, however, we know that Christ calls certain men and women to special ministry and service within the Church. It is in the lives of those in Holy Orders and in Religious Life that the Assembly of the Faithful are invited to see the face of Christ Who came to serve and not to be served.
For some time now there has been a growing concern in our nation that there are fewer priests, deacons, sisters, and brothers to serve an ever growing number of Catholics. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken this concern to heart and, in preparation for the Millennium, has embarked upon a National Strategy for Vocations in the United States. This strategy is aptly entitled "A Future Full of Hope," for it looks forward to the next millennium with confidence that the Lord of the Harvest will generously meet the needs of his people. This national strategy encourages all Catholics to reaffirm the ordained and consecrated life as vibrant and life-giving vocations. "A Future Full of Hope" invites our concern for vocations in service to the Church to be marked by total faith in the Holy Spirit.
As your Diocesan Bishop, it is my intention to work fervently to bring about a deepening awareness of these special calls from the Lord and to honor the sacredness of a life given in service of Christ to his people. In this second decade of my ministry as your Bishop, I intend to make the promotion of vocations a priority. The commitment and zeal of our priests, deacons, and religious are a marvelous testimony to the beauty of a life lived in service to Christ. It is in their example that future vocations are spawned.
However, the work of promoting vocations is not the work of priests and religious alone. The vision of the Second Vatican Council clearly reveals that vocations are the shared responsibility of all God's people. Parents and godparents (and sponsors) are in a key position to encourage those in their charge to say "yes" to the Lord, particularly through their own expressed acceptance. This letter is an invitation to every Catholic of this Diocese to take an active role in the ministry of vocations.
The National Strategy for Vocations, a "Future Full of Hope", lists a number of means by which vocations can be promoted. They range from the establishment of parish vocation committees to an encouragement of vocations in the home. With this letter, however, I would like to emphasize the means which is listed first and which is fundamental to the work of the whole parish community in promoting vocations. That means is Prayer. Our Lord Jesus, moved by the anguish of the crowds, whom he observed as sheep without a shepherd, said to his disciples: "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few. So ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest [Matt: 9:37,38 & Luke 10:2]." Indeed, the Bishops set for themselves the goal of fostering a national campaign of prayer asking God for an increase of vocations to the ordained and religious life.
Let us reflect for a moment with our Holy Father on the invitation of Jesus to pray for vocations. In his beautiful letter Pastores Dabo Vobis issued upon the completion of the Synod on Priestly Formation in 1992, Pope John Paul II writes: "The Church should daily take up Jesus' persuasive and demanding invitation to 'pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest [Matt: 9:38].' Obedient to Christ's command, the Church first of all makes a humble profession of faith: In praying for vocations, conscious of her urgent need of them for her very life and mission, she acknowledges that they are a gift of God and, as such, must be asked for by a ceaseless and trusting prayer of petition [Pastores Dabo Vobis, #38]."
Pope John Paul II goes on to note that this prayer for vocations is the pivot of all pastoral work for vocations, required not only of individuals; but, of entire ecclesial communities. "There can be no doubt about the importance of individual initiatives of prayer, of special times set apart for such prayer, beginning with the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, and of the explicit commitment of persons and groups particularly concerned with the problem of priestly vocations. Today the prayerful expectation of new vocations should become an ever more continual and widespread habit within the entire Christian community and in every one of its parts [Pastores Dabo Vobis #38]."
Celebrating Good Shepherd Sunday as World Day of Prayer for Vocations, we are reminded to make this ceaseless and trusting prayer for vocations a habit among us as the Church. Habits are practices which take place regularly and which become part of daily life. Habits of prayer are especially valuable, for they keep us conscious of the needs of the Church and of the power of God in meeting those needs.
I urge every Catholic to include vocations as a part of his or her daily prayer. Whether in the morning or in the evening, a simple prayer such as: "Lord, send more workers into your harvest," can have a powerful effect. Jesus knew the power of prayer to move God. He would not have exhorted us to pray for vocations if nothing would come of it. At the same time, it would be well to pray for ourselves and for the grace to have our words and actions of the day encourage rather than discourage a young person to accept the call that God might be extending to him or her.
In particular, vocations ought to be a part of every family's prayer. Families are encouraged to beg God that one of their own might be given the call to service in the Church as a priest, a deacon, or religious. What a blessing it would be for a family to have such a prayer answered! We ought to pray not only for vocations in general; but, in a specific way that one of our own children or grandchildren might say "yes" to the call of Christ.
Parishes, who have not done so already, are asked to begin praying each Sunday for vocations, including a special intention for vocations in the General Intercessions. With resources provided by the Vocations Office, every Parish should set aside a special time of prayer each week for community prayer for vocations. I recommend that, if possible, Thursdays be chosen, - aware that it is on this day of the week that we are especially conscious of the gifts of the Holy Eucharist and of priesthood. Already, there is a Thursday evening Mass for Vocations at the Prince Gallitzin Chapel House in Loretto, followed by Eucharistic Adoration. It would, indeed, be a most powerful witness for this Diocesan Church to be united in prayer for vocations as the one community of believers, - as the one Household of God.
The work of promoting vocations is the work of every one of us. It is a work which we need to begin on our knees. Our prayer as individuals, as families, and as parishes is a response to the Lord Jesus: praying that the Lord of the Harvest send workers into the fields. United in prayer, we can be confident that the Lord, who assures us that our prayers will not go unheeded, will provide us good and holy priests and religious to serve our Diocesan Church into the next millennium. We are brimming with confidence that our future is indeed a future "full of hope."
From the time of the Reverend Prince, Father Demetrius A. Gallitzin, whose faithful ministry has been an inspiration, the faith of Catholics in these Allegheny Mountains has been marked by a deep devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus and of the Church. I conclude, then, by commending all our efforts and prayers for vocations to the Mother of the Lord, under the beloved title of Our Lady of the Alleghenies.