Vocations: Continuing to build culture of vocations in Central Texas

By Father Jonathan Raia
Guest Columnist

November 1-7 marks National Vocation Awareness Week, a great chance to focus our efforts to build up a culture of vocations in our diocese. A culture of vocations is one in which parents teach their children to desire the Lord’s will above all and witness by their lives to the joy that comes from following God’s will. It is a culture in which young people who are still unsure of their path in life are surrounded by examples of married couples, priests, women and men religious, and single people living their vocations with joy and fidelity.
In such a culture, children and young people learn that following God’s will always involves sacrifice, but they also witness the truth that in the sacrificial gift of ourselves, we find true joy and peace. A culture of vocations means an environment in which it is natural for boys and young men to think about the priesthood or religious life, and for girls and young women to consider the possibility of serving God and the church as consecrated religious. And finally, a culture of vocations is one in which priests, parishioners and parish staff regularly invite young — and not so young — people to consider a priestly or religious vocation.
There is no such thing as a “default” vocation — each person must carefully and prayerfully discern God’s will for his or her life. For those who may be called to a celibate vocation, receiving an invitation from someone who identifies characteristics that might point to that vocation can be a great help in that discernment. For instance, a study of the ordination class of 2015 revealed that those who were ordained to the priesthood throughout the U.S. were encouraged to consider the priesthood by an average of four people. Unfortunately, almost half of these men said they were discouraged in their discernment of a priestly vocation, by an average of two people. Imagine, then, the numbers of those who were discouraged and simply gave up their discernment! 
As always, we have a tremendous responsibility in God’s plan: God desires to use us, his people, to nurture the seeds he plants in the hearts of those whom he calls. As we celebrate National Vocation Awareness Week this month, may all of us recommit ourselves to living joyfully the vocation we have been given and to encouraging those still discerning their vocation.
Probably my favorite part of my job as diocesan Vocation director is working with our seminarians. They are an excellent group of generous men that make our diocese very proud. This fall, we are blessed to count 41 men in formation to serve as priests in the Diocese of Austin. Since our diocese does not have a seminary, our men attend several different seminaries for their formation. For college and pre-theology, seminarians attend either Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, or St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington, La. Theology-level men, as well as some older college- or pre-theology-level candidates, attend either St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio; Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, or the North American College in Rome. Seminary formation normally takes seven to nine years, depending on how much college-level credit a man has when he enters formation.
Currently a few of our seminarians are in the diocese on pastoral year: Henry Almaguer at St. Mary Parish in Temple, Henry Cuellar at Sacred Heart Parish in Austin and Andrew Dinh at St. Helen Parish in Georgetown. This nine-month internship experience provides the men with the closest experience possible to the life of a priest in a parish. We also have two deacons who are serving full-time in parishes in preparation for their ordination to the priesthood: Deacon Everardo Cazares at St. John Vianney Parish in Round Rock and Deacon Froy Jerez at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in College Station. 
On behalf of our seminarians, thank you for your generous and prayerful support of them, and please continue to pray that God will form their hearts after the heart of his Son.

Upcoming discernment opportunities
The discernment group for high-school men meets on the first Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. in the Religious Education Building of St. William Parish in Round Rock. The evenings include dinner and evening prayer with discussions about the priesthood, seminary and discernment. 
The discernment group for men 18 and older meets on the second Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. at the St. Charles Borromeo House of Discernment, 905B Duncan Ln. in Austin. The evenings include dinner and evening prayer with discussions about the priesthood, seminary and discernment. 
The Heart of Jesus Men’s Discernment Retreat will be held Dec. 18-20 at Cedarbrake Catholic Retreat Center in Belton. Catholic men (ages 17 to 40) with an openness to a priestly vocation and at varying stages of discernment are invited. The cost is $35 per person.
Project Andrew for men ages 16 to 45 will be held Feb. 13 at 10 a.m. at St. Mary Cathedral in Austin.
Project Miriam for women ages 16 to 45 will be held Feb. 20 at 10 a.m. at St. Mary Cathedral in Austin.
Heart of Mary Women’s Discernment Retreat for women 18 and older will be held April 8-10 at Cedarbrake Catholic Retreat Center in Belton.
Quo Vadis Retreat for high school men will be held June 25-26 at St. Thomas More Parish in Austin.
For more information, visit www.austinvocations.com or call (512) 949-2430.