Promoting Vocations

Doug McManaman
May, 2009
Reproduced with Permission

For years I organized a Lenten 24 hour starve-a-thon for students, which would begin every year on the Friday before Holy Week and end the following afternoon. I was always impressed that some students would pay money to go without food for a full day. My friend the Late Monsignor Tom Wells once advised me to keep an eye on those kids who were willing to make that sacrifice, because very likely there are vocations among them, that is, vocations to the priesthood or religious life.

Sometimes vocation directors are tempted to present a picture of the priesthood that looks very attractive - to someone less interested in a life of sacrifice than in a life free of the burdens of married life. Such an approach tends to depict celibacy, among other things, not so much as a deeper sharing in the cross - which it is - , but as a way to circumvent it.

But this approach is radically flawed. If it works, it only succeeds in drawing the wrong kind of person to the priesthood. The vocation to the priesthood, the diaconate, or the religious life is in various ways a deeper sharing in the mystery of the cross.

I've only been a deacon a short while, but - I hate to say it - I don't believe I really understood what a deacon was until after ordination. Prior to that day, I only knew about an office outside of me. Afterwards, I was looking at the diaconate from within. And what I saw was far richer and more focused.

The Second Person of the Trinity (the Son) joined a human nature in order to enter into human suffering. Christ preached and worked miracles, but he redeemed us ultimately through his suffering and dying, for the cross was the perfect offering of himself to the Father. It was an acceptable offering, a perfect and eternal prayer, offered in history on our behalf.

A deacon is a servant to the bishop. He sends the deacon out into the darkness of human suffering; for the bishop, an Apostle, is called, among others things, to enter into the sufferings of those he is sent to serve, whether they turn out to be the sick, the imprisoned, the young, the aged, the depressed, the mentally ill, the lost, the unevangelized, etc. But he cannot be in all places at all times, nor can his priests. And so he calls certain men, granting them a partial share in his ordination, permitting them access to the graces of Holy Orders, precisely for this particular ministry of charity.

The priestly aspect of the deacon's vocation lies in the offering of the prayer of the Church, the divine office, for the sick and suffering. He tastes the suffering of those to whom he ministers and joins it to the light of Christ that burns in the depths of his own heart. And then he offers these souls to the Lord in the prayer of the Church.

His liturgical service is symbolic of his role as servant. Preaching is part of his role, but it is not primary, for Christ redeemed man primarily through suffering and the offering of himself on Calvary. Similarly, the deacon understands that others are won over to the Lord not through words, but through prayer and the joining of his sufferings, and the sufferings of those he serves, to the sufferings of Christ.

The priesthood involves an even greater sharing in the mystery of the cross. And so vocations are best promoted by appealing to those who seek the Lord and his cross, that is, to those who have come to love the Lord not for his benefits, but on account of his goodness and the glory of his love. Vocations must appeal to those who see that the Lord is supremely deserving of love and perfect worship.

Parents cannot create such people; only God shapes the human heart. But the rest of us can intercede for them, pray for them, offer our own sufferings for them so that the Lord may raise them up for the good of the Church.