Answering God’s call to a vocation

Archbishop Nienstedt

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

On March 5 of this year, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, visited the major Roman seminary on its patronal feast of Our Lady of Confidence. Interestingly enough, we have a statue in the chapel of our own St. Paul Seminary dedicated to our Blessed Lady under this title.

During that visit, the pope presided at a “lectio divina” on St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. He commented on St. Paul’s use of the word “call” or “vocation” as it applied to the Virgin Mary.

Then he said, “The Lord has called each of us; each is called by name. God is so great that he has time for each of us.  He knows me, he knows each of us by name, personally. . . . I believe that we must meditate on this mystery again and again; God, the Lord, has called me, he calls me, he knows me and awaits my response as he awaited Mary’s response, as he awaited the response of the Apostles.”

What God wants

Whether to marriage, priesthood, religious life or the single life, a vocation involves a great mystery, a genuine mix of nature and grace. A vocation is quite different from a career. A career is something I want to do with my life. And that’s OK as far as it goes. But a vocation is something that God wants me to do.  And that makes all the difference.

How does a woman know that out of all the possible husbands in the world that her fiancé is the one for her? Well, she senses the attractions of her heart, but then she tries to objectivize that in evaluating how he works, how he responds, what his values are, what he thinks, what he believes.

The same is true in discerning a vocation to the priesthood, diaconate or religious life, wherein the fiancé is not only Jesus, but his bride, the church. Do I love Jesus in and through his church? Do I love how the church thinks, what she teaches, how she responds to human needs, what values she holds, what she believes?

In a vocation, it is God who calls.  And those who are called are expected to respond, thereby finding the greatest peace, happiness and joy one can have in this world.

Since becoming archbishop, I spend one morning a month at our two fine seminaries: for college seminarians, St. John Vianney College Seminary, and for graduate seminarians, The St. Paul Seminary.

I always join the college men for their 6:15 a.m. holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament. I sit over to the side in the front of the chapel where I can easily glance at the faces of the men at prayer. How impressive that sight is to behold! They are serious to the point of being intense, caught up in dialogue with the Lord. And yes, a few like the apostles with heavy eyelids, struggle to stay awake!

And here is where the process of discernment takes place: not what do I want, but what do you want Lord?  And as Blessed John Newman said, “Cor ad cor loquitur,” heart speaks to heart.

Someone recently sent me a pamphlet printed 50 years ago with an imprimatur by my predecessor, Archbishop John Murray. It highlighted the reaction of parents to a son or daughter’s announcement of a religious vocation. On the one hand, parents are able to pooh-pooh the notion and deep-six it, or they can hold it up as the answer to their prayers. Either response is a turning point for the discerner.

In 2009, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) did a survey that discovered 90 percent of the priests ordained that year said they went to the seminary because a priest asked them to go. Yet, in that same year, only 10 percent of the priests surveyed said they had asked a young man that question. Imagine what might have been if more priests had asked!

Yes, the seed that is a vocation comes from God, but it requires the local community of faith to feed, water and nourish it so that it can grow.

When I was installed as the bishop of New Ulm in August 2001, we had 66 priests for 81 parishes. We also had four men in the seminary. I asked the diocese to pray at every Mass, at every meeting (imagine!) and at every family meal for priestly vocations. But then I asked them to put some punch in their prayer by fasting from meat every Friday.

Together with several others, I have kept that devotion these past 10 years. The diocese has ordained six fine priests in that decade and still has six more men in seminary discernment.

During the past 11 years, we in the archdiocese have ordained 70 priests to serve this local church, and we expect to have 64 seminarians come September. This is great, but it could also be better.

Recently, the episcopal conferences in England and Wales asked their Catholic priests, religious and faithful to return to the practice of Friday abstinence as a “shared habit” that would make the church stronger.

I believe that those bishop conferences are on to something important.

I ask our readership to consider joining me in this weekly Friday fast. And as you do, ask the Lord for the specific intention of calling more priests to serve in his vineyard.

God love you!

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Category: Only Jesus

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