Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Culture of Vocations

In recent years, a phrase that has made its way around church circles is, "promoting a culture of vocations."  The idea is that parishes (or, in my case, a Newman Center) ought to create a culture where priestly and religious vocations can flourish.  I've been blessed in my priestly assignments to be in places where a culture of vocations exists. A culture of vocations is not a box to be checked off on a "to do" list of various activities in a parish.  While various events, programs, and advertisements are well and good, they do not constitute a culture.  I think you know that a culture of vocations has taken hold when it is no longer something mandated by the priest, but is rather something that is lived by everybody.

Today is Palm Sunday. When I came down from our chapel this morning, there was a group of ten men from the BU Catholic Center gathered in our coffee room. They were all dressed in suits because they were heading off to St. John's Seminary for Mass and then brunch. What makes me really happy about this is that I had absolutely nothing to do with it. Our intern and the leaders of our Men's Group organized it with some of our alumni who are now seminarians.  Some of these same men attend a weekly discernment group called "The Melchizedek Program." Again, I know about it, encourage it, and support it, but I am not the driving force behind it. This to me is evidence of a culture of vocations.

When the women in our community visit religious communities, go on discernment retreats, and seriously help one another to discern whether God is calling them to the consecrated life, that is evidence of a culture of vocations.

Quite regularly, the alumni of the BU Catholic Center who are now in the seminary meet up with current students from here. They continue to live the friendships that they made here. This to me is evidence of a culture of vocations.

When I was a pastor, our rectory was often filled with young priests and seminarians. We would have cookouts in the garden or meals in the dining room. We'd just be sitting around in the morning time having a cup of coffee together. When people would stop by the rectory and see all of us together, laughing and having a great time, I could tell that they were genuinely happy to see our fraternity. This to me is evidence of a culture of vocations.

Praying for vocations is central to building a culture of vocations. It was Jesus himself who told us that we should pray to the harvest master to send out laborers for the harvest. If Jesus has given us this clear command, we would be fools not to obey. At every Mass that I celebrate, I include a petition asking God to grant "an increase of vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life, especially from this community." Additionally, I frequently offer the "Mass for Priestly Vocations." In my previous parish, parishioners would offer their daily Holy Hour for particular seminarians and then write to those seminarians to encourage them. This was organized by the parishioners. This was evidence of a culture of vocations.

Places that emphasize the centrality of the Sacraments are places where there is a culture of vocations. When people understand the importance of the Mass and see it offered with seriousness and with joy, their love for the priesthood grows. When people have a firm faith in the Sacrament of Penance and see its necessity, they recognize the need for priests. Where the Sacraments are emphasized, a culture of vocations flourishes.

Where Eucharistic Adoration is present and promoted, a culture of vocations develops.

Where priests, seminarians, and religious are present in the lives of people, a culture of vocations flourishes. The students at BU Catholic Center  regularly encounter priests, seminarians, and religious. When priests and religious live their lives close to the people, a culture of vocations is cultivated.  A culture of vocations exists when priests, seminarians, and religious are guests at the dinner tables of parishioners. A culture of vocations exists when priests, seminarians, and religious live a friendship with their people.

Of course, one of the best promoters of a culture of vocations is to have vocations. Once vocations flourish in a particular place, they multiply. 

When I came to Boston University, a culture of vocations had already long been established here. It's not something that is imposed by dictate, something contrived, or something added on.  It is a culture. It is something that is part of the life here.  

I hope that this makes you as happy as it makes me: Today, Palm Sunday, ten young men from BU organized themselves and went to the seminary in order to attend Mass and brunch with the seminary community. Included in that seminary community are four recent graduates from BU (two other recent grads study at a different seminary).  That, to me, is what a culture of vocations looks like. I am very grateful to be a beneficiary of such a grace-filled culture.


  1. The word "vocation" can mean many things and I am curious about the Catholics who feel their vocation is to be married. It seems no one ever prays for them at Mass or offers much in the way of helping them fulfill this vocation.

    1. Hi Anonymous! Thanks for your comment. I agree that "vocation" has various levels of meaning. And I also agree that parishes and Newman Centers can help people to fulfill their vocation to marriage. Among the things we do here at the BU Catholic Center is have a student led series on the Theology of the Body. Also, we bring in speakers to speak on the vocation of marriage and family life. A few weeks ago, we had a young couple who are alumni come back and speak about marriage and dating. The next week we had another couple come in to speak about raising their children as Catholic. For me, one of the best ways of helping the people here grow in their appreciation for the Sacrament of Marriage is by having them meet friends of mine who are married. In a couple of weeks, a small group of students will be hosted at a dinner and a book discussion at the home of a family with whom I am friendly. Just a few of the ways. Happy Holy Week!

  2. Thanks for the reply. This all sound great. I wish my parish did things like this.