A couple of Sundays ago, our pastor had a bad case of “stomach flu” and gave me a call at 6:30 am. He tried to find a priest, but none was available because of time conflicts. We're the only Catholic Church in our rural County of Appalachian Ohio and it would be impossible to give the faithful notice. His only option was to ask me to lead a "Sunday Celebration in Absence of a Priest". I explained the situation to the congregation and presented the option of going to Mass in an adjacent county later in the morning. While our celebration was much better than nothing, it was in no way comparable to the awesome Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which makes Holy Thursday and Calvary present to us in a mystical way that transcends time. Fortunately, we later found a priest to celebrate the 10 am Mass.
That emergency situation is not rare. Many a rural parish like ours around the country, as in many mission areas, must depend upon Communion Services because a priest can only come once a month. Clearly, the situation is desperate and we got a taste of that. The vocations crisis hit home. A small parish as ours is blessed to have a full time pastor. PRAY FOR VOCATIONS! See Appendix II below.
Encourage young men to consider the priesthood.......especially sons, grandsons, and friends. The sick especially and all of us for that matter should offer our little irritants and our daily crosses to the Lord as a dynamic prayer for vocations. In that way and with a proper attitude, suffering can be most valuable and meaningful. Every saint has had to suffer. The sick and the shut-ins are particularly important as prayer warriors.
God calls as many young men to the priesthood as ever. The problem is that they don't listen. The materialistic concerns and noise of a secular society drown out and stifle the call. Parents, relatives, friends, and the culture discourage and sometimes even ridicule those who are seriously considering the priesthood. Our Society does not have the spirit of sacrifice to accept celibacy, a lower income, an intense prayer life, and a modest life style. We often lack the personal generosity to give ourselves to God and His people through a life of service and prayer. A broken home or a dysfunctional family is not conducive to vocations. The clerical abuse crisis hurt and many priests do not promote their great calling. Since every Catholic is called to be a missionary, renewing the Church starts with each one of us.
The cradle of vocations is a loving devout family. The home must be a domestic Christ centered church with daily family prayer, rosary, and spiritual reading for all of its members, including toddlers in some simple form. The primary educators of the faith are the parents, not the school or CCD which are only supplements. All members of the family should be active in the parish as altar boys, lectors, ushers, and leaders in parish groups.
The father must be a true man of God and the spiritual leader of the family. The mother must nurture the faith. Priests must be held in high regard and respect. Reverence and an intense love of God and each other as well as neighbor must become family values. In other words, holiness should be the family goal. Every member of the family should serve each other, the parish, and the community in some way. After all, the kids are saints under construction. See Appendix I below for some great resources.
Mass attendance, the very serious Sunday obligation of every Catholic should be a family must, rather than the casual “we attend whenever we can”. The entire family should go together to Mass as the Saturday night or Sunday routine. Ideally, monthly Confession should become a family tradition. There was a day when the nuns would march every Catholic kid in their school for First Friday of the month confession. Every family should pray that each child discern God's will for their lives and at least one of them become a holy priest, one of the greatest blessings that a family can have.
Let's face it. The typical Catholic family is rather secular. Parents must step up both as models of holiness and teachers to raise saints. All of this is easier said than done; my family lacks a lot, but we strive for it. No family is ideal except the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. But a step or two in that direction is progress. The ideal provides a goal and even if that ideal should be reached, there is no guarantee, but the odds are in our favor. A family may produce a holy priest and lay leaders who are pillars of the parish and the community, but another son or daughter may exercise his or her free will to rebel and fall away to outside influences. The Lord only asks parents to sincerely try. The resources in Appendix I below should be a big help to any family that strives to be holy.
A dynamic parish life is key. CCD and Confirmation Classes are s a bare minimum, but other devotions and activities as the youth group, Women's Club, Knights of Columbus, Bible Study, Parish Mission, etc. are essential. In every parish, especially in the small ones, there's enough work to go around. We cannot leave the work to George. Especially in small parishes, you're George. They have found that parishes that introduce perpetual adoration, become transformed. Even monthly days of Eucharistic Adoration help greatly. If a boy knows his pastor well, it is more likely that he will look to him as a model. A holy and dedicated pastor who is close to His flock and enthusiastic about his own vocation is a big help in encouraging good prospects. A short prayer for vocations could be part of every Mass and parish devotion, particularly in the offertory petitions and perhaps in the concluding prayers as well.
The vocations are there. As His instruments, we must tap that gold mine. That is, with God's help we must mine the ore, refine it, purify it, and let the Lord mold and form the clay and the gold according to His will.
APPENDIX I: FOUR FABULOUS RESOURCES FOR THE FAMILY AT NO COST
Every Catholic family should have, if at all possible, the following as a minimum in their home: the Holy Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and access to EWTN, the Catholic television channel. For those who cannot have the Catechism at home and all of us for that matter, Catholic Familyland, the Catholic family retreat center in Bloomingdale near Steubenville, has constructed four truly incredible websites for the family. Simply click on the desired website.
It publishes in print and on line www.FamilyCatechism.com* the complete Catechism of the Catholic Church. That is its book, especially written for families with links to numerous biblical sources and Church documents. The web site is a Catholic library at your disposal! Then there's a weekly guide to teach the faith, www.FamilyCatechesis.com because the primary educators in the Faith are the parents. Spanish speakers, go to www.Catecismoparalafamilia.com
In addition, www.familylandtv.com provides a wide selection of television programs to watch at your convenience instead of being tied down to a particular time. The programs change every week.......great speakers, interviews, kids programs, family movies, Mass, rosary, etc.
And finally, it has www.FamilyHoliness.com, a 4-Step Plan to keep your kids as strong and faithful Catholics for the rest of their lives against secularism and other forces of evil. IT'S ALL FREE!
APPENDIX II: PRAYERS FOR VOCATIONS
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a collection of 41 prayers for vocations on its web site that could serve as fillers of empty spaces in Sunday Bulletins. See http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers/prayers-for-vocations.cfm. An example is:
O God, Father of all Mercies, Provider of a bountiful Harvest, send Your Graces upon those You have called to gather the fruits of Your labor; preserve and strengthen them in their lifelong service of you.
Open the hearts of Your children that they may discern Your Holy Will; inspire in them a love and desire to surrender themselves to serving others in the name of Your son, Jesus Christ.
Teach all Your faithful to follow their respective paths in life guided by Your Divine Word and Truth. Through the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, all the Angels, and Saints, humbly hear our prayers and grant Your Church's needs, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
There are many web sites on vocations. For example, the Diocese of Steubenville has http://home.catholicweb.com/diosteub/index.cfm/NewsItem?ID=328081. Other websites include: , www.vocation.com, www.vocationnetwork.org, www.catholicsoncall.org, www.catholicpriesthood.com, http://romancatholicvocations.blogspot.com. Simply click on the desired website.
All of this and more can be found on this blog, “A Little Bit For God and His People” which has the following web address: http://paulrsebastianphd.blogspot.com. To help the men to keep in good spiritual shape after the Men's Conference is "Becoming a True Man of God" at http://diosteubmen.blogspot.com