By Celine Klosterman
DAVENPORT – Building relationships with young people is key for individuals, parishes and schools working to encourage religious vocations, said Father Thom Hennen, vocations director for the Diocese of Davenport.
During a Dec. 3 webinar, he gave about 20 Catholics tips for creating a culture of vocations. One suggestion: Invite people who know and trust you to consider the priesthood, diaconate or religious life. In surveys, a high percentage of people with religious vocations have reported they’d received a personal invitation, and that it played a very important role in their discernment.
Vocations to the priesthood have been slightly increasing in southeast Iowa, Fr. Hennen said. For years, an ordination to the priesthood in the diocese occurred about every two years. More recently, the rate has been one or two ordinations annually.
Still, myths about vocations can deter people. Fr. Hennen countered misconceptions including these:
• Only a select few have a vocation. Actually, everyone is called to holiness because of their baptism. If the Church can encourage more people to embrace their baptismal calling, more people will enter a religious vocation.
• God calls only really holy people. In truth, some saints lived unchristian lives before converting.
• Priests, deacons, Sisters and Brothers are unhappy. Everyone has bad days, but surveys have shown people in religious vocations are happier than people in secular professions.
• Celibacy is impossible and unnatural. It’s not necessarily more challenging than married life.
• “I can’t be called because I want to get married and have children.” “Hearing this is a good sign to me,” Fr. Hennen said. Someone un-attracted to family life might not make a good priest, who is called to spiritual fatherhood.
• You must be 100 percent sure before you start the path to a religious vocation. Actually, you just need to be open to the possibility and willing to take steps toward further discernment.
Fr. Hennen also addressed potential fears, including the idea that life is harsh at a seminary, convent or monastery. Visit one of those places, and you’ll find joyful people, he said.
So how do Catholics overcome common objections and encourage vocations? Present an integral vision of Christian life, he said – a life in which faith pervades every decision. Be deliberate and unashamed about Catholic identity. Provide ample opportunities for service; volunteering may inspire people to consider serving in other ways. Invite local priests, deacons or religious – whom young people may know personally – to speak about their vocations.
Parishes and schools could also consider:
• Starting a vocations committee and organizing two vocations events each year. Dates to consider are the World Day for Consecrated Life (Feb. 2, 2014), World Day of Prayer for Vocations (May 11, 2014), Priesthood Sunday (Oct. 26, 2014) or National Vocations Awareness Week (Nov. 2-9, 2014).
• Holding regular holy hours for vocations. Matthew 9:38 encourages prayer: “Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Holy hours also create awareness of the need for religious vocations.
• Hosting a Project Andrew Dinner in which people with religious vocations share a meal with people who may be discerning a calling.
• Offering a traveling chalice/crucifix program.
• Recognizing parish altar servers.
• Creating a local or regional discussion and discernment group for young people.
• Organizing a visit to a seminary, monastery or convent.
• “Adopting” a seminarian in prayer or creating a seminarian/religious pen pal program. Contact Fr. Hennen for seminarians’ addresses: Hennen@davenportdiocese.org or (563) 888-4255.
Easy actions include displaying the most recent seminarian poster, regularly including a prayer for vocations during the intercessions at Sunday Mass, and printing short articles promoting vocations in the bulletin. Gear bulletin blurbs to parents and grandparents, the main bulletin readers, Fr. Hennen suggested.
For more information, visit www.davenportvocations.com.