Planting seeds of God’s love for vocations to ‘Take root, mature and bear fruit’

April 25, 2016

HOUSTON — The theme Pope Francis chose for the 2016 World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which is held on Good Shepherd Sunday each year, is “The Church, Mother of Mercy.” During this Extraordinary Year of Mercy, the Holy Father urges all the faithful to assume their responsibility for the care and discernment of vocations through continued prayer and support of the Church.

“The Church is the house of mercy, and it is the ‘soil’ where vocations take root, mature and bear fruit.” (Pope Francis, Vatican, Nov. 29, 2015)

The ministry responsible for encouraging and fostering young people in the Archdiocese to consider a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life is the Office of Vocations. One of 60 ministries supported by the 2016 Diocesan Services Fund (DSF), programs include vocational discernment events, such as discernment groups, prayer services and retreats for young people in the Archdiocese, as well as visits to Catholic schools and parish youth programs to speak about vocations. 

“Our vocation programs help discerners hear God’s call in their lives,” said Father T.J. Dolce, director of the Office of Vocations. “This gives them an experience of His mercy as they meet with other young people who are feeling a similar call as they respond to God’s love.”

In addition, the Office of Vocations oversees the Archdiocesan funds used for seminary formation to pay for education, room and board at the seminaries the men attend. Five men are scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in downtown Houston on June 4.

The summer has a full slate of discernment retreats for young people, Father Dolce said. These include one for high school boys and also young adults retreats in both English and Spanish to discern God’s call.

The ministry also encourages parishes to reach out to all families so their children can search for their vocation, whether they are called by God to enter into the priesthood, consecrated life or a holy marriage.

“There has been a resurgence in the interest of our young people to learn more about their spirituality and ways to grow and deepen their faith,” said Sister Anita Brenek, CDP, associate director of the Office of Vocations. “They realize the strong need for God in their lives, so there has been a renewed interest and support for the ones that look into joining the priesthood and consecrated life.”

Sister Brenek said as young people become more concerned about social justice issues, such as abortion, immigration, affordable health care and poverty, they may be called to join a religious order with a mission that focuses on these issues that deal with the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

“Young people may choose to live out the works of mercy through their ministry of service through the consecrated life,” said Sister Brenek. “They can directly respond to those social issues and help lead the broader Catholic population to be more aware and help provide the remedies.”

In the southern United States, Sister Brenek believes there is a resurgence of families that also choose to educate their children in Catholic schools, which is key to helping youth to maintain their faith and stay educated about and focused on solving social problems.

“We find many of those called to the priesthood or consecrated life attended a Catholic school or were active in their parish youth group or religious education program,” she said. “Some may have come to the youth program because of the social part, but may have found themselves drawn to others who have hearts on fire for Christ, which only increases their own hunger for more. Like the woman at the well, they get drawn into something deeper, maybe unexpected, and their desire for God intensifies as they seek new ways to quench this thirst.”

The staff and volunteers are grateful for the generosity of the people of God who support the DSF, which is the lifeline of its operations.

“It is expensive to educate seminarians in Catholic universities and graduate schools, and we would not be able to help young men discern their call to the priesthood without the kindness and sacrifice of the people of God who donate to the DSF,” said Father Dolce.

DSF also helps the Office of Vocations to finance the retreat opportunities for young people to discern God’s call and meet other young people who are considering the vocations of priesthood or consecrated life.