My dear brothers
and sisters in Christ,
Sunday, May 7, is the 54th World Day of Prayer for Vocations. In his message for this observance, Pope Francis emphasized that:
There can be no promotion of vocations or Christian mission apart from constant contemplative prayer. The Christian life needs to be nourished by attentive listening to God’s Word and, above all, by the cultivation of a personal relationship with the Lord in Eucharistic Adoration, the privileged “place’”for our encounter with God.
Our Holy Father places before us the close union between prayer and the fostering of vocations, between knowing the Eucharistic Christ and embracing a God-given vocation. The foundation for the Holy Father’s plea for vocations is rooted in this encounter. Pope Francis went on to write: “I wish heartily to encourage this kind of profound friendship with the Lord, above all for the sake of imploring from on high new vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life.”
In the fall we will begin our observance of the 150th anniversary of our diocese, which was established on March 3, 1868. Throughout these many years, priests and religious contributed to the building up of God’s kingdom in this area of New York state. Parishes were erected, and religious served in many apostolates in education, health care, outreach to the outcast and impoverished; they welcomed those “tired … poor … huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” seeking to begin a new life in this country.
Our first Bishop, Bernard J. McQuaid, “(w)ith foresight and, in view of the relative poverty of his diocese, with remarkable success … created an excellent elementary school system out of which institutions of secondary and higher instruction could easily grow. To staff these schools he trained a large number of Sisters in pedagogy and Christian educational philosophy” (McNamara, Father Robert F., The Diocese of Rochester in America 1868-1993, p. 250). In the years that were to follow Bishop McQuaid’s episcopacy, numerous orders of religious sisters, brothers and priests would continue the bishop’s legacy of providing Catholic education to our youth. When Pope St. Pius X sent a personal letter of congratulations to Bishop McQuaid on the occasion of his 40th anniversary of episcopal ordination, His Holiness wrote: “The education of the young and especially of those intended for the priesthood … is a thing so great that there is nothing of more importance to the Church and nothing of more importance to the state” (Ibid.)
As our diocese celebrates its 150th anniversary, it is so necessary that we remember these dedicated priests and religious who are so much a part of our history. In view of our sesquicentennial observance, this World Day of Prayer for Vocations takes on particular significance as we continue to pray “the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38; Luke 10:2).
If we are to continue to build up God’s kingdom among us, we need to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life, which become a leaven to the laity to assume their active places of collaboration in the work of evangelization. As vocations to the priesthood and religious life have declined, the laity have been a true and very valued support. But a very dedicated laity does not exempt the Christian community from praying for future ordained and consecrated vowed religious leaders to continue the ministry of Word and Sacrament.
In faith we remain always hopeful that the Lord will care for his people. In his message, Pope Francis wrote: “The People of God need to be guided by pastors whose lives are spent in service to the Gospel. I ask parish communities, associations and the many prayer groups present in the Church, not to yield to discouragement but to continue praying that the Lord will send workers to his harvest.”
Our Priests’ Personnel Board is now working with me to prepare for the June assignments of priests. Each year it becomes more challenging to meet the many spiritual, pastoral and sacramental needs of our parish communities. There are always requests for a greater priestly presence, while also acknowledging the positive collaboration and contributions of the laity. Our seminarians are increasing in number, but it will take greater numbers to replenish the number of priests reaching senior status over the next several years, while also allowing for sickness and death that can occur at any time according to God’s will.
Indeed our numbers of vocations need to increase. The constant and clear teaching of the church about the essential and unequivocal role of the Sacrament of Holy Orders in the ministry of salvation for God’s people — as well as the church’s continued appreciation for and acknowledgement of the great value of religious orders in the life of the church and the many contributions religious continue to make in fulfilling its mission, particularly among the poor and suffering members of our community — remain unchanged as the church seeks to address current real needs within the community of faith.
The fostering of religious vocations among the laity is a manifestation of the laity’s appreciation for those who dedicate their entire lives to the service of the Lord, His church and the community of the faithful. Parents encourage their children to pursue careers and occupations which they consider important and valuable in society. I pray that the priesthood, religious life and the diaconate are among the life choices parents desire for and present to their children.
Certainly the positive and joyful witness given by dedicated priests, religious and permanent deacons cannot be underestimated in inspiring our young people to consider religious vocations as we seek to involve our youth in the life of the church, which needs their vitality and enthusiasm. We must be among the leaders in supporting our young people to answer the call of Jesus to serve.
This support and encouragement for vocations has been an integral part of our diocesan history. “In 1955 and again in 1963 Bishop Kearney (Most Reverend James Edward Kearney, fifth bishop of Rochester, 1937-1966) authorized special campaigns for increased priestly and religious vocations …” (McNamara, Father Robert F., op. cit., p. 487). We in ordained ministry and in vowed religious life must exhibit this same supportive spirit, powerfully renewed in the words Benedict XVI addressed to young people in São Paulo, Brazil, on May 10, 2007: “But as I gaze at you young people here present — you who radiate so much joy and enthusiasm — I see you as Christ sees you: with a gaze of love and trust, in the certainty that you have found the true way. You are the youth of the Church. I send you out, therefore, on the great mission of evangelizing young men and women who have gone astray in this world like sheep without a shepherd. Be apostles of youth. Invite them to walk with you, to have the same experience of faith, hope, and love; to encounter Jesus so that they may feel truly loved, accepted, able to realize their full potential. May they, too, discover the sure ways of the commandments, and, by following them, come to God.” Our Pontiffs have shown great hope in the potential of our young people. Indeed among them is the potential to be “sent out into the world as prophets of His Word and witnesses of His love” (Pope Francis, op. cit.).
I am also mindful of those who have embraced ordained ministry and vowed religious life at a more mature age, bringing to these vocations the gifts and talents developed over their different stages of life. Some have left prominent positions, promising careers and financial success to respond to the Lord’s invitation to follow in His footsteps. May they continue their lives of ministry with the support of God’s people.
In closing, I reiterate the words of Pope Francis as he concluded his message for the 54th World Day of Prayer for Vocations: “Dear brothers and sisters, today too, we can regain fervor in preaching the Gospel and we can encourage young people in particular to take up the path of Christian discipleship. Despite a widespread sense that faith is listless or reduced to mere ‘duties to discharge,’ our young people desire to discover the perennial attraction of Jesus, to be challenged by his words and actions, and to cherish the ideal that he holds out a life that is fully human, happy to spend itself in love.”
Invoking the intercession of our Mother Mary in this month specially dedicated to her who embraced fully God’s will, I remain,
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend
+ Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester