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from fathers desk

Dear Parish Family,

We find ourselves at a special confluence; two rivers of thought intersect to create a beautiful spiritual and cultural landscape. It is the third week of our Message Series, Harvest Principle and our diocese kicks off Called by Name vocation campaign. The harvest principle is this: we reap what we sow. This reality helps us to see how our choices, our virtues and really our whole lives are connected to the seeds we plant. Last week we focused on character, and how we build our character through our choices for virtue. This week we center on vocation. Jesus himself says, “The harvest is great, but the laborers are few, so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:37-8). This image Jesus paints has often been interpreted as a call for priests, a call for shepherds to join in the work of Jesus and the apostles.  Hence, the confluence.

Bishop O’Connell has long encouraged all pastors to invite young men to the priesthood. He calls each of us a local “vocation director” and he notes that we need to seek out and nurture vocations. As the baby-boomer priests retire, our diocese finds herself stretched thin. In our area a decade ago, almost every parish had two priests. Now we are just about one priest per parish. And in the next five years, we can anticipate about 15-30 priests retiring, while about 10 men will be ordained. So, the crunch is coming.

But how did we get here? Surely many factors influence this complex phenomenon: contraception and smaller family size; a less religious and faithful culture; less exposure of young people to living witnesses of this gospel life, among other factors. One thing that strikes me is personal invitation! The best way to get a positive response for any request.

I imagine high schools in Philadelphia full of sisters and priests teaching teens, and from those witnesses came invitations: “Hey John, ever thought of the priesthood?” or “Hey Mary, pray about joining the sisters!” Seeds planted in the hearts of young people. Over time, fewer classes taught by priests and religious, fewer invitations extended, fewer vocations. Now it turns out that most of the men in seminary today come from public schools and many are converts to our Faith.

It is past time to sow the seeds of vocation in our families! And by that I mean not only or merely the invitation to become priests, but more broadly the truth that God has a plan for every life. God created us; he knows us and loves us better than we know and love ourselves, more profoundly than even our parents love us. God seeks our fulfillment. God created us to be happy, and God conceived of a plan for each of our lives that is the path to greatest flourishing. Speak to your children this truth. Sow these seeds in their hearts and lives. Teach them to ask God to shine a light on the way forward. Impress upon them the need to pray for guidance: about what college to attend, about what major to adopt, about where to live and friendships to build. God wants to weigh in on each of these facets of our lives. He has a plan. We need to learn how to tune in and listen for it. So, the question is NOT: “What do you want to do with your life?”, but “how is God calling you?” Because God is calling all of us. He invites each of us to follow, to love, to serve. God has created each of us for a purpose and fulfilling that purpose is our path to happiness and holiness. So, we need to build friendship and dialogue with the Lord, and to quiet our hearts so that we can tune in to the beating of his heart, for us.

This weekend I will be sharing part of my vocation story, and how seeds were sown in my heart for this priestly existence. It is time to teach our young people how to recognize the seeds God is sowing in each of our lives. We can also assist them to recognize what God has been up to. The program “Called by Name” invites our parish family to recognize seeds planted in the lives of our young people, and to say: “I see in you some of what it takes to be a priest.” We can recognize among our family and friends the way God has been at work. Won’t you join me in the work of cultivating vocations from among our parish family.

Your Shepherd,
Fr. Wilson