In planning great celebrations, we pick the perfect food, drinks, decorations, and space. We contact a caterer and set up a plan for the types of food to be cooked and when it will be delivered. We select the proper decorations and arrange furniture. The determining factor, however, for how much food or space is necessary and how grand the celebration will be is how many people respond, “yes” to the invitation. We can have a great hall with beautiful decorations, choice food and beautiful music. Yet, if we don’t send out the invitations, that is all we will have—a beautiful, empty space but no one to celebrate with.
A similarity can be drawn to our Church. We have beautiful spaces decorated for the various seasons. We have beautiful music in the Liturgy and choice food in the Eucharist. Yet, without people, and especially without priests, our Churches will be like that empty banquet hall. We, as Christians, are called to invite our friends and neighbors to participate in our faith, in the celebration. Equally important is the need to invite men to consider the priesthood, to be the one who leads this celebration of faith and who through the power of Jesus Christ makes the celebration of the Eucharist possible.
The Archdiocese of Newark has been blessed for many years with a great number of seminarians and new priests being ordained each year. While the number of priests ordained across the country is on the rise, and many of our parishes are fortunate enough to enjoy the presence of more than one priest, the idea of a “vocation crisis” or “priest shortage” is very real. Some parishes within our Archdiocese have but one priest, their pastor, who is responsible for everything going on in the parish. Other priests are so often pulled in many different directions and given multiple assignments, based on the growing needs of our Church. There simply are not enough priests. This has been the case in dioceses across the United States; the Archdiocese of Newark is not immune to this situation. With a growing number of our beloved priests approaching or beyond retirement age, this shortage of priests will soon come to affect our parishes. Yet, it does not have to be so.
What can be done about this? How can you and I do our part to encourage and foster more vocations within the Archdiocese of Newark? First and foremost, we need to invite. Unless more men are invited to consider the priesthood as an option in their lives, the reality we face will not change.
How many of us reading this have a son, grandson, nephew, or a brother? Have you ever talked to him about the priesthood in a positive way? Have you ever told him that he would make a great priest and encouraged him to consider it? Statistics are showing an alarming rate of men never considered priesthood because the idea was never presented to them—they were not invited. Statistics are also showing, however, a profound number of those ordained to the priesthood first thought about the possibility because someone whom they were close to invited them. Their mother, their father, their parish priest, their youth minister, a friend…
The truth is that all of us know a man (or perhaps more than one) who is searching for meaning in his life. We know a man who puts others’ needs ahead of his own. We know a man who loves his faith and seems to enjoy being a part of the Church. We know men who want to live lives of service. We know men who want to help others, teach others, and lead others on the paths of righteousness. We know virtuous men who have many gifts and talents that we so desire in our priests. We know that these particular men are considering and weighing their options—is priesthood one of them?
Over the past 20 years or so, young people are constantly told that they can do anything they put their minds to. “If you can dream it you can do it.” This ideal is found in the schools they attend, in the movies they watch, and even in the music they listen to. This is not a bad thing at all. We should be encouraging others to “reach for the stars” and to achieve greatness. When we do this, when we encourage, do we include priesthood as an option for these men as a way to become who they are meant to be—who God desires them to be?
It is not unheard of to encourage someone to dare to do something great, something difficult and challenging. We cheer them on when they apply to college, grad school, law school, or medical school. We say, “Go for it!” when they are thinking about applying to that competitive internship or starting their own business. We show support when they attempt to invent something like a new app or product. But are we inviting them to consider the priesthood as an equally viable option that will fulfill their desires and surpass their dreams?
Please think of someone you know who would make an awesome priest and invite them to consider it. They may be thinking about already or they may not, we don’t know. Our invitation could be received at the perfect time for this young man to hear God’s invitation, through you and me, to build His Church and help him discover the greatness God has created Him to achieve. Without an invitation, there can be no “Yes.”