How parishes can promote vocations
• Holy Hours for Vocations. Have a special Holy Hour* to pray for priestly and religious vocations.
• Rosary for Vocations. During the rosary mention candidates by name.
• Collaboration with Boy Scout Troops. Scouting has long been a friend of vocation promotions. There is even a special camp at Philmont for boys considering the priesthood.
• Attend ordinations. Coordinate for confirmation students or youth groups to attend an ordination
• Elijah Cup. In this popular program, a chalice that is used at Mass it brought home by a different family each week. It is kept in a special place by the family, who prays each day for more vocations.
• Vocations library. Keep a special corner of the vestibule stocked with vocation-related materials.
• Poster/coloring/ essay/video contests. Organize a contest with a vocations theme for students.
• Parish Discernment Groups. Small groups of boys or girls led by parish priest or sister, with help from parents, to help them understand vocations.
• Workshops for Altar Servers. Teach altar servers about vocational discernment.
• Vocation stories. Invite priests to tell their vocation stories at parish events.
• Web page. Create a page on your parish website with vocation information.
• Vocation Prayer distribution. Vocation prayer printed on refrigerator magnets and distributed.
• Celebrate ordination anniversaries. Honor parish priests and celebrate within the parish and school.
• Support Seminarians. Send greeting cards to each of the
seminarians of your diocese at the beginning of a new semester,
holidays, exam times, birthdays, ordinations, etc.
• Vocation Director. Invite him to the parish for a weekend, for Mass and a meal with parish families.
“I hope and pray that we who have been entrusted with vocational promotion and seminary formation may never forget one of the most important duties we have: to discern, recognize and acknowledge holiness in the young men entrusted to us. We must be discerners of holiness, fishers of men and not keepers of aquariums. Our task is not only to teach and form future ministers, but to call forth saints for the new millennium.”
A Sacred Moment: How to speak to a young man about Priesthood
A. Leave an anonymous note in the sacristy just before the Mass he usually serves.
B. Choose a quiet moment to say, “John, I’ve noticed your strong character and love for God. I think you should consider the seminary.”
C. Give a pamphlet to his Youth Minister, in the chance she may give it to him.
D. After Mass, in front of all his friends, you point and wink at him, saying loudly, “Hey Johnny! You’d look good in black!”
Mentioning the possibility of priesthood to a young man makes a difference. Surveys show that the majority of priests first considered a priestly vocation because the idea was planted by a priest, a friend, or a family member. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about planting seeds.
Items A and C above are well-meaning, but too anonymous. The first instance—leaving a note—is so surreptitious as to make the possibility of priesthood seem hush-hush, almost not appropriate for normal conversation. It’s healthier to be upfront about the fact that God calls everyone to a certain vocation, and that priesthood is among the options. Item C—giving a pamphlet through third party—is a bit better, but not the ideal.
As with so many things in life, the personal approach is best. And thus the biggest consideration is your relationship to the young man. If you’re his pastor or his father, you are in a position of credibility, so your words can be very powerful. But even if you’re relatively unknown to him—a person who just goes to the same Mass, say, or the parent of one his friends—you can still make an impact. Let’s consider a couple of different scenarios.
If you’re very close to the young man, look for a special moment. It doesn’t have to be a dramatic, drawn-out conversation, but it should have an appropriate level of seriousness. Here is how Fr. Tom Richter describes just such a scene in “Lend Your Own Voice to Christ”:
The father looks John in the eye and, with a voice filled with heartfelt care, says these simple words, “Son, the qualities I admire in priests, I see in you. And I want you to know that I would be honored if God would choose one of my sons to be a priest.” He said nothing more than that; he did not need to. His father’s words claimed the attention of John’s heart and confirmed the thoughts in his mind.
It is a sacred moment, heart speaking to heart, in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yes, item B above is the best approach.
But let’s say that you don’t know the young man very well. It’s after Mass, you’ve got your bulletin in hand, walking toward the parking lot, and he happens to cross paths with you on the sidewalk. There’s not many others around. “Hi there,” you say. “I’m Margaret. I’ve noticed that you and I go to this Mass frequently. I hope you don’t think this is too forward, but I just wanted to let you know that you seem like a very faithful young man, and I bet you’d make a great priest if God called you.”
Could a scenario like this one be a bit awkward? Yes, but much less so if you’re friendly and kind, and don’t push the issue. It’s more like a compliment than anything else. The man may even blush for a moment, but this much is certain: he’ll never forget it. And later on, the thought may take root and begin to grow.
Needless to say, “Hey Johnny—you’d look good in black” is not the right way to plant seeds. It makes light of an important issue, and isn’t appropriate given the situation. Instead, look for the sacred moment. At the right time, God can work powerfully through you, even in an ordinary scene like walking down the sidewalk.
*Why a Holy Hour for Vocations?
We are often asked to pray for vocations, but how? Certainly we should do so in our daily intentions as well as at Mass. Sometimes, though, holding a special Holy Hour for Vocations provides a more intensive focus for our intercession: as we join in adoration of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, we earnestly ask him to send more laborers into the harvest. Pope John Paul II said, “Considering that the Eucharist is the greatest gift Our Lord gives to his Church, we must ask for priests… We must ask insistently for this gift. We must ask for it on our knees.”
Planning the Holy Hour
To hold a Holy Hour for Vocations in your parish, it is essential to have the participation of your parish priest. Work with him to choose an appropriate date. There’s no bad time to hold a Holy Hour, but some dates may work better than others, such as May 15, World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
Most often it is useful to have a small group plan the Holy Hour, such as your local Serra Club; this helps to spread the work among more people, and also ensures better attendance. Sometimes a cluster of nearby parishes can work together to plan one single area-wide Holy Hour for Vocations.
Promotion is Key
Even when only two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, a Holy Hour can be a powerful event—but it sure is nice to have more people! Promoting your Holy Hour, then, becomes critical. Here is one rule of thumb: you must do far more than place a notice in the bulletin!
Sometimes, to boost attendance, the Holy Hour can be planned in conjunction with another event, such as immediately before the Knights of Columbus Fish Fry, or as part of a youth group event. Similarly, you may want to include other groups in the Holy Hour planning process, so it is a “multi-ministry” event, in conjunction with the Boy Scouts, the Ladies’ Guild, a Bible Study, the RCIA group, etc.
With your pastor’s cooperation, try to make it a parish-wide event, promoted widely via pulpit announcements, displays outside of Mass, email, parish web site, Facebook—even automated phone calls have been known to increase attendance. If Holy Hours are not common in your parish, make sure you explain what is involved and why they are so important.
Holy Hour Format
There is a standard format for Holy Hours that can be adapted for different purposes. Most follow a basic outline: an opening hymn while the Blessed Sacrament is placed in the monstrance, scripture readings, time for silent prayer, devotions such as the rosary or litany of saints, then Benediction and a closing hymn. Remember that the format of your Holy Hour needs to be approved by the priest who leads it.
Here are some very useful resources for structuring your Holy Hour:
- Holy Hour for Vocations from the U.S. Bishops
- Booklet about Praying for Vocations
- Serra Club Holy Hour
- Holy Hour from the Diocese of Arlington
Is it Worth the Effort?
Yes! Sure, it takes some work—coordination, creativity, and leadership—to plan your Holy Hour for Vocations. But what better way to ask God for vocations than directly before Him in the Eucharist? At a time when our Church so badly needs more priests, it’s worth the effort to do our part.
Even if your attempts hit a roadblock and you aren’t able to start a public holy hour for some reason, our Lord will know of your work and desire and will bring some fruit from it. In this case, make a personal holy hour for vocations and trust that God will take care of things. As Blessed Mother Teresa said, “God doesn’t require us to succeed; he only requires that you try.”
“Vocations to the ministerial priesthood and to the consecrated life are first and foremost the fruit of constant contact with the living God and insistent prayer lifted up to the ‘Lord of the harvest’, whether in parish communities, in Christian families or in groups specifically devoted to prayer for vocations.”
Background photo by Corey Bruns.