Writing a monthly article for Catholic New York was not my idea. Shortly after my appointment as vocations director, a priest friend suggested I consider writing an article to highlight vocations and the work the office as doing. I am grateful I have had the opportunity to share some of the aspects of this critical work that directly impacts the archdiocese both now and in the future. We are all keenly aware of the lack of vocations and we need to continue to pray that more young people respond generously to the invitation from the Lord.
When I was appointed vocations director five years ago, it came as a shock. I knew that my time as a parochial vicar was drawing to a close and I had applied to a few parishes that had openings for a pastor. When Cardinal Dolan called and asked me to undertake this important work I was surprised, and frankly, a little terrified. I did not quite know what to expect or what exactly I would do. Yet after a while I began to feel more comfortable in the position crisscrossing the archdiocese going to high schools, colleges, young adult meetings and retreats. Camps and pilgrimages filled my summers and despite the frenetic pace I thoroughly enjoyed the work in which I was engaged.
As I have written about before, one of the most beautiful aspects of this work is hearing a person’s vocation story. It is a privilege as a priest to be in a place of trust and discernment with someone who believes that the Lord may be calling him to be a priest. There is a long journey from the vocations office to ordination day so no one I brought in at the beginning of his journey has made it just yet. I imagine that when that first ordination class of men makes it to the sanctuary of St. Patrick's Cathedral, there will be an immense joy and a new aspect to the spiritual fatherhood we priests are blessed to experience as we minister to the flocks entrusted to our care.
As I complete this work in vocations, I look forward to becoming a pastor of two parishes, St. Mary's in Washingtonville and St. Columba in Chester. Although I will no longer have the title of vocations director, I have always felt parish priests are the first and best vocations directors. The vast majority of men I have worked with over the last five years will speak with great admiration of their parish priests whose example inspired them to consider a vocation to the priesthood. When I first was appointed as vocations director, I was speaking with a long time seminary rector who simply said, “Chris, nothing you and I do, no program or project, will be as effective as a happy parish priest.” The truth of this statement has proven itself time and again with the men that I have worked with. National studies of vocations and the recently ordained are virtually unanimous in citing the example and encouragement of a parish priest as a major factor in the man’s discernment. Sadly, because of the scandals, a priest may be reticent to approach someone and encourage him to be a priest. One of the ways to handle this may be to simply ask if the man has ever considered what God’s plan is for his life. Just leave it open-ended, but when this question comes from a priest it may spark an interest.
As I conclude this work, I am grateful to my brother priests who encouraged me with their prayers and support. The work of vocations is truly at the center of so much of what we do in ministry as we encourage people to open their hearts to the voice of the Lord and consider if maybe in a unique and extraordinary way Jesus is calling them to serve His people in the vineyard of the Archdiocese of New York.