The Catholic Church in the United States will celebrate National Vocation Awareness Week, Nov. 7-13, 2021.
Father Paul Clark, vocation director for the Jefferson City diocese, pointed to an activity the priests of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Pettis County recently undertook to promote vocations.
Father David Veit and Father Joseph Corel, pastors in solidum, prepared the parish for a “Called by Name” weekend.
The priests told the parishioners in a bulletin announcement and Mass announcement that for the next three months, they would preach about vocations one weekend per month.
During the vocation homily for the fourth month, the priests would ask the parishioners to write on cards they would find in their pews, the names of those they believed should consider the seminary.
The first month’s homily included Scriptural references.
The second introduced the Church documents that talk about preparing men for seminary, seminary formation and Priesthood.
For the third weekend, the priests shared the story of their own priestly calling.
They chose the weekends for vocation homilies by praying over the Sunday readings for each weekend and selecting the ones that were most appropriate.
Called by name
Leading up to the second weekend, they published in the parish bulletin a list of ways that parents can be helpful and ways they can be a hindrance to allowing their son to hear the voice of God speak to them about a possible priestly calling.
Before the weekend of the third month, the priests wrote a list of characteristics the Church looks for in men who are called to seminary formation.
It was important to say “who they believe is called to be in the seminary to discern Priesthood” because seminary is where formal discernment for Priesthood takes place.
Once Fr. Veit and Fr. Corel were ready for the fourth month, they asked parish staff to create a card seeking the name of a potential candidate, the candidate’s approximate age, his parents’ names (if potential candidate is under 18 years old), and any contact information for the candidate or parents.
The following weekend, about 35 cards were submitted in the collection basket, calling 17 men by name.
“It is always fascinating to see how many young men receive their name on more than one card,” said Fr. Corel.
The priests then invited the parents of those 17 young people to an informal wine, cheese and crackers party.
COVID-19 prompted the postponement of the event until everyone in the parish could be back together again.
Five sets of parents wound up taking the priests up on the invitation.
Speaking from experience
At the gathering with the parents, the priests again talked about their own call stories and how their discernment was received by their parents and siblings.
They also shared what was and was not helpful from what they heard from adults while they were considering the seminary.
The priests gave tips as to how parents can be supportive without being pushy about the idea of seminary and Priesthood.
They shared the characteristics of what the Church looks for in a seminarian and complimented parents on raising good quality men, regardless of what they were called to do with their lives.
“People see good qualities in their sons,” Fr. Veit noted.
Most parents were happy to know how to support but not be pushy — to bring the topic up likes it’s as normal as anything else and not to overdo it.
The parents also appreciated being reminded that no matter what, pray that their children listen to God in whatever He is asking them to do with their lives. That will allow them to be happier than just planning it without their children’s input.
They also appreciated knowing the characteristics the Church looks for and that their sons match some of them.
They also appreciated being with others whose sons were considered.
No one would know
The priests told the parents that it was never going to be mentioned in announcements nor in the bulletin that they were the ones invited to this dinner.
The date and guest list for the next event — the St. Andrew Dinner — would never be published. That way, the parents and the young men could continue going to Mass in peace.
“We did say, ‘Keep in mind, we are expecting people to continue to ask young men to consider Priesthood, so if you are asked or your children are asked, it’s because they are doing what we asked, not because they got their names from knowing who was invited to the St. Andrew Dinner,’” Fr. Corel noted.
Dates and times for discernment nights — at which anyone who may feel called to Priesthood or religious life gathers with the priests — would be publicized.
But the St. Andrew Dinner would be something completely different.
St. Andrew Dinner
A few weeks after the wine and cheese visit with the parents, a group of parishioners made dinner for the young men who were invited to the St. Andrew Dinner.
Nice in-house invitations were made and sent to the men.
Seven men attended. They were welcomed by the priests.
Dinner was served buffet-style to the young men and priests, and then the priests and guests simply visited like a group would at any dinner.
After everyone had finished their main course and before dessert was served, the priests asked the guests to come to the Sacred Heart Chapel for a little prayer and talk.
There, both priests talked about their call story and how their call stories could relate to the guests who were present to hear it.
They showed how God speaks to all people, including the ones sitting in front of the priests.
Then, after some questions from the young men, everyone went back to the dining room for dessert.
The priests told the young men that there was not going to be any formal follow up, but that as they prayed and went about their daily lives in the life of the Church, the Lord would know how to bring back this evening as He saw fit and that the priests would pray for them that they respond accordingly.
They were also comforted in knowing their names were not going to be made public.
Fr. Corel said that with Vocation Awareness Week coming up, they may receive a letter with some vocation-related literature from the priests to let them know they are being prayed for this week.
Resources from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for parishes and families to observe Vocation Awareness Week can be found at usccb.org.