Bishop's Interview: Praying for and inviting more vocations

Bishop Joe Vásquez ordained (from left) Ventura “Alex” Caudillo, Jason Bonifazi, Barry Cuba, Augustine Ariwaodo and Timothy Nolt to the priesthood on June 8 at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Austin. (Photo by Shelley Metcalf)

Editor: Bishop, you have just ordained five new priests so it is a good time to talk about vocations. How is the Diocese of Austin doing as far as vocations to the priesthood are concerned?

Bishop Vásquez: We are very blessed in the Diocese of Austin. Since I arrived here three years ago, I have been very impressed with the way that we as a diocese have worked to create a culture of vocations. We currently have more than 40 seminarians. Father Brian McMaster, our diocesan vocation director, is an excellent recruiter and he works very well with our seminarians. We are blessed to have someone of his caliber to be the first person that many young people meet as they begin to think about a vocation.

Father McMaster has built upon the good work of Father David Konderla and Msgr. Michael Sis, who were the previous vocation directors. All of these men have worked hard at promoting vocations and creating a culture of vocations in the Austin Diocese. We are now reaping the fruits of their dedicated work! This year we were blessed to ordain five new priests. Next year will be a small ordination class of one, but after that, we expect the ordination numbers to rise. I need to say that as a church we will probably never get to the point where we have more than enough priests. The diocese continues to grow, and we will always need more priests to take care of the needs of the people. Therefore, we must continue to encourage and pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Editor: Our diocesan Vocation Office encourages everyone to invite more people to consider the priesthood. How do we go about doing this?

Bishop Vásquez: First of all, we must be aware that God has a plan for each one of us, and each of us must discover that plan for ourselves. When we discover that plan, we will find happiness, joy and peace as we discover who God wants us to be. God calls certain people to be of service to the church in a unique and particular way. For some men, that means being called to the priesthood or to the diaconate. For some women, that means being called as religious sisters or nuns. Therefore, the church is asking all of us to help those who feel so inclined to discover their particular vocation.

We can begin this process with prayer. We have to ask God send more people to serve in the church. Remember in Matthew’s Gospel when Jesus himself sees the great needs of the people and what does he say? "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." Every one of us has to be praying for vocations, no matter if we are young or old, male or female, single or married, we should be praying for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

We can also take an active role in our parishes. Some of our parishes have established vocations teams that are committed to praying for vocations before the Blessed Sacrament or who help organize activities that promote vocations, such as presentations and retreats. The diocese also hosts a variety of programs to invite young men and women to think about a vocation to the church. There is plenty of activity, but we must always remember that the primary work is always God’s. God is the one who gives the vocation; God plants the seeds in the hearts of young men and young women to give themselves to God, to serve the church and to love the church as Christ does. We, in collaboration with God, can mention, suggest or encourage others to consider their calling from God.

Our part in helping a young person discern the call to a vocation is very simple. All we have to say to the person is that we see something in them that says to us they would make an excellent priest or an excellent sister. That is all we have to do. God does the rest!

Here are some examples of how we might invite someone to consider a vocation: "I notice that you spend a lot of time in church, have you ever thought about being a priest?" "Have you ever thought about going to a religious community?" "I see how you really enjoy working with young people, and that you really have a special gift to give to these people, have you ever considered a vocation?" "I see that you have certain gifts that remind me of Father X or remind me of Sister X, have you thought about such a vocation?"

Often we complicate our approach too much and we are afraid, but all we have to do is offer a simple invitation and open the door so that young people will begin to ask God what he intends for them.

Editor: What are some of the qualities that make a young person a good candidate for a vocation to the priesthood or religious life?

Bishop Vásquez: First of all, one must be a person of prayer. Is this person prayerful, not that they have to be in church every day, but do they show a spirit of prayer when they are at Mass? Is there a spirit of reverence and of love for the Eucharist? Are there times in which this person simply prays by themselves or with others? Prayerfulness is essential to religious life.

Another aspect is joyfulness. I say this with all sincerity that joy has to be part of every vocation. I truly believe that once we start following Christ and we give ourselves to him, especially as priests and religious, there is a joy that we just cannot contain. Someone who obviously enjoys life and the blessings that God has given them is a good candidate for the priesthood or religious life.

The other element that I look for is service –– I look for someone who can put themselves at the service of others. Can they accept not always having to be first? Are they willing to help? Do they enjoy spending time with the elderly or with someone who is sick? Do they serve in the choir or as an altar server or as a catechist? These are types of service. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says he "did not come to be served but to serve." Priests and religious must find joy and fulfillment in serving others, just as Christ did.

Editor: How can parishes support vocations within their community?

Bishop Vásquez: One way is to organize vocation teams or vocation committees, which consist of clergy and laity who seek to help with vocations. A priest or deacon might be part of the team, but for the most part it consists of laity who come together to pray for vocations and to encourage vocations within the parish. As I mentioned before, prayer is essential, but then there are other activities the committee can publicize to help young people become aware of the discernment process. For instance, the vocation committee can promote the activities of the diocesan Vocation Office in their own parish. Also, they create times when young people who are thinking about a vocation can come together –– maybe for a meal or for a discussion. They can invite a priest or religious sister to talk about their vocations.

I would like to see more vocation teams created in our parishes. Sometimes these committees don’t know where to start or what to do. However, it’s not about how many events are offered, but it’s about the quality of the events that are put forth. There does not have to be an event every week, but perhaps the committee plans an event one or two times year. We need more activities that help promote vocations at the parish level. For instance, introducing seminarians to the parish when they are home for summer or on break from the seminary is a good way to help raise the level of awareness for vocations. Again, this is not complicated and it doesn’t take a lot of money or time, it is about helping others pray for vocations and helping young people discern the will of God.

Editor: What is your prayer for vocations in the diocese and for the greater church?

Bishop Vásquez: My prayer is that God will indeed send more workers into the field. We need good, holy priests; we need good, holy sisters who are dedicated, who love the Church, who have a passion for Christ, and who have a passion for his work and want to give of themselves. My prayer is that there will be many young people in our diocese –– men and women –– who will respond and say, "Here I am Lord. Send me."

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