By Father Thom Hennen
At the end of September I attended my very first convention of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors (NCDVD). As a “newbie” vocation director I found this to be a very helpful gathering.
It addressed the ministry of vocations work as just that, a ministry. It approached this work from a solidly spiritual perspective, and yet was full of good practical information as well. It also gave me a chance to meet with other vocation directors from across the United States and even a few from Canada—some 250 of us all told.
A number of points were made throughout the course of our workshops that have stuck with me in the weeks following the convention. First of all, the point was made several times that Christ is really the vocation director. We have to remember that it is Christ who is calling and is speaking to the hearts of our young (and not so young) people. As diocesan vocation directors, we are called to be collaborators with Christ, discerning along with those men considering priesthood and serving as a “touch point” for those considering diaconate or religious life. Like Andrew for Peter, we are called to gently but enthusiastically lead people to Christ and he will do the rest.
I can tell you that even in my first two months on the job it has been a temptation to feel as though the successful fostering of vocations in our diocese rested squarely on my shoulders. It is reassuring for me to know that while I have my work to do, the work of calling men to the priesthood is first Christ’s work. It is the work he began nearly 2,000 years ago on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and it is the work that he continues to do today.
It is also good to remember that the work of vocations ministry is not only a collaboration with Christ, but with each other as well. Some have the mistaken notion that the vocation director is there so that everybody else can be freed from the burden of promoting and encouraging vocations — not so! In fact, as my predecessor, Father Marty Goetz, pointed out in one of his last vocations columns, the vocation director is probably a less credible voice in the calling forth of vocations than is the local priest or the people of the parish. For many, the vocation director is seen as a “recruiter,” and that comes with some negative connotations.
Another point made at the convention last month was that the vocation director is not so much a recruiter as a discerner. A recruiter tries to convince someone that they have a vocation, but a discerner tries to help a person discover how it is that he or she may be called to live out the baptismal call to holiness. One of the men I am visiting with about the priesthood recently told me that even if he does not feel called to priesthood, the process of discernment has been for him a process of deeper conversion. Now to me, that is vocations work.
Please keep me and the needs of our people in your prayers as we collaborate with Christ and with each other in the important work of fostering vocations for the Diocese of Davenport.
(Fr. Hennen is vocations director for the Davenport Diocese. Contact him at (563) 888-4255 or hennen @davenportdiocese.org.)