Recently, a retired priest left his shoes in the sanctuary and processed out of his final Mass of his parish in his stocking feet! In his parting words, he challenged his congregation to invite and encourage vocations to the priesthood and religious life. After decades of loving service, in which he was fulfilled as a priest and Christian man, he asked his congregation, “Who will fill my shoes as a priest for the Archdiocese?”
Today we have faith filled men enrolled in our seminaries who are enthusiastically, joyfully, and courageously answering the call of Christ to be a priest to serve Him and our local Church. We simply need more of these excellent men to answer the call that is there yet being unheard or ignored. The need for more priests stems from the need to outreach and continue to proclaim the gospel, to bring people to a loving faith filled relationship with Jesus Christ, to offer the sacraments and mediate God's grace.
Did you know that we have more priests today per practicing Catholic then we did in the 1960s before any mention of a "shortage"? 80% or more or Catholics practiced their faith then versus 20-25% now. It is quickly apparent why many men simply don't hear their vocational call - they are not in a life giving relationship with Jesus Christ in order to hear it.
In the words of the late Cardinal Bernardin, the "baptized and unconverted Catholics" may hold the key to enlivening our Church and increasing the needed vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Our Catholic culture can nurture vocations to priesthood and religious life in many ways. Reestablishing a Catholic culture supportive of vocations within our families, schools, and parishes would help inspire young men and women to pursue the priesthood or religious life. The Catholic families again can be seedbeds of vocations. Religious Education and Catholic Schools can encourage, promote and educate. Priests and religious can personally invite those within their parishes and ministries that exhibit a potential vocation to priesthood and religious life.
Come Holy Spirit! Many needs, but at the same time, much hope. Young adults, youth and college students are pursuing their faith in edifying ways. They want to serve and they want the sacraments. They desire substantial understanding to what and why we believe what we do. There are stellar young men coming out of these ranks feeling called to the priesthood. As well working men of various ages are discovering something "missing". Into this desire to discover what more their hearts yearn for they have left everything to pursue seminary training in their perceived call to the priesthood. This year those applying or accepted to enter the seminary include: IT specialist, salesman, VP of a major company, medical doctor, family and crisis counselor, US delegate involved in foreign affairs and industrial worker. God is calling. They have answered.
Perhaps you reading this text will be the vehicle of God's grace used to encourage, or invite our future priests and religious life. Perhaps you are being called yourself to the priesthood or religious life. Or maybe you are being inspired to help create a Catholic culture supportive of vocations in your parish or school. For information in these areas and more, please check out www.ChicagoPriest.com or www.vocationscava.org. The Spirit initiates, we respond.
Together with much prayer, encouragement and support, we can answer the question, “Who will fill those empty shoes?”