As tired as we may be of hearing it, we live in unusual times. And, in these unusual times, the need for the presence of Christ has perhaps never spoken louder to our hearts, as many of us have had limited access to those sure signs and channels of God’s grace, mercy, and presence: the Sacraments. Of course, this limited access is temporary. Many of our parishes have resumed their regular sacramental schedules and, once again, this great gift of God’s very self is held out for us to receive.
But imagine now, for a moment, a world with no priests at all…
St. John Vianney once called the priesthood, “the love of the Heart of Christ.” To be able to be the instrument that draws the divine love, a love stronger even than death itself, out from the Heart of the Good shepherd and pours it out on His people, to make it real in their lives—this is what makes priesthood such a beautiful, powerful, and humbling gift. And since that love knows no limits or bounds, neither does the priesthood.
There is no way around it: we need priests! That is why every diocese in the country has a priest dedicated to promoting priestly vocations and accompanying young men who are discerning if God might be calling them to this heroic life. Here in the Diocese of Bridgeport, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has instituted a new model for promoting vocations: a vocations team, consisting of myself and Father Abelardo Vasquez working in collaboration with Father Paul Check, rector of St. John Fisher House of Formation. Each man who comes forward to offer His life to Christ as a priest has a unique story. They come from every corner of our diocese and, sometimes, beyond its borders. The call to each heart is so personal that the discernment of that call must be as well. By entrusting this important work to a team of priests, rather than only one individual, our hope is to cast a wide net and to raise up a new generation of priests that reflects all of the best aspects of our small, but diverse, diocese.
Of course, that is not an easy mission. As Jesus left the 99 to search out the one, fostering vocations must take on a missionary attitude. We, too, must “put out into the deep and lower [our] nets for a catch.” (cf. Luke 5:4). God is calling men to the priesthood. He is calling men to lay down their lives as a bridge for His merciful love to flood the world. We must go out, to help these men hear the voice of God whispering in their hearts and, most importantly, accompany them to echo Mary’s fiat to God’s will in their lives.
But the vocations team remains only one piece of the puzzle. There is an old saying: “It takes a village to raise a child.” What is just as true is that it takes a Church to raise a priest. The mission of fostering vocations to the priesthood must be inscribed on the heart of every faithful Catholic in the Diocese of Bridgeport. The creation of a vocations team is a sign of the collaboration that is essential to the success of the mission to ensure the Sacraments are available for our generation and every generation to follow.
The world is changing right before our very eyes but as the book of Lamentations reminds us, “The Lord’s mercies are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent” (Lam 3:22). The Heart of Jesus is crying out for His people, to make His love, His mercy and His presence known to them. Who will give voice to that cry for the next generation?
By Father Chris Ford