+ Bishop Colm O'Reilly - Vocations Sunday, 17th April, 2005

Dear People of Ardagh and Clonmacnois,

The Church is celebrating its 42nd World Day of Prayer for Vocations this year. I write to you to make a special appeal for your fervent prayer for vocations to the priesthood, to Religious Life and for a commitment among lay people to work for the spread of the Gospel.


Bringing out the best in us.


Some of the crises of recent times have revealed a level of generosity in Irish people that has taken us by surprise. On Sunday, the 8th of January, of this year in the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois people coming to Mass contributed over €350,000.00 to alleviate the hardship caused by the Tsunami Disaster. The voluntary contributions per head of population in Ireland as a whole exceeded those of all other countries in the world. Clearly, we can still rise to a challenge. We have still got what must be a nearly unique compassion (a word which translates into Irish as trocaire), for the poor of the world.


It is not just by giving money that we show our compassion. There are times when compassion makes us do something more costly than put money in a collection box. For instance, if somebody goes missing, let it be while hill walking or in some mysterious way, people will brave the wind and the rain to search for the one who is lost. The spontaneous generosity in the ordinary person is quite remarkable in a world where many voices advise us to put ourselves first.


Is there a way in which our generosity can also be channelled to meet other kinds of need? In the Church we have great need of more vocations to priesthood and Religious Life. To match that need I believe there is generosity in the heart of many waiting to be tapped. We can, I believe, attract young and middle aged people to a life which calls for generous service. We live in a country which is rich in good models of priesthood. In every county in Ireland there lives on the memory of priests whose presence in their communities made an immense difference at critical times. I constantly meet people who mention names of priests to whom they feel personally indebted for pastoral care. I feel a great sense of pride when I hear mention of outstanding and courageous ministry by a priest at the present time.



Hearing the Call of Christ
· I sometimes marvel at the fact that in our time there are those who will turn their back on a good career in favour of a vocation which offers much less in material rewards. This is a great sign of hope. When the young get an opportunity to ask priests about their vocation, the question to which they want an answer is: "Why did you go for it?" Whenever I hear this I read it as a way of getting an answer to a question that some have asked themselves: "Could I do it?" Many of those who ask that question could genuinely say YES. What they would like them to see and hear from us priests is that we find joy and fulfilment in doing God's work in the ministry. That is what those who ask about priesthood would like to hear.


· I feel sure that one of the questions that not only young men who think about the priesthood but also their parents want to ask is about the choice of living a celibate life. If presented as a life without the responsibility of marriage only, celibacy will not attract anybody to the priesthood. It would not augur well if it did. The fact is that both married life and celibate priesthood must draw their strength from love, generous love that "endures all things", to use words from St Paul. Put another way, you could say that priesthood and marriage need to be happy life choices. Married people with a generous love for their married partner find love of God in that relationship. Priests find it in a celibate love that includes God and people.


· Those who go forward for the priesthood today need encouragement. In the past approval from parents was probably the most important kind of support of all. This is still important. But more is needed. There is a saying that comes from Africa that could be adapted to describe how vocations are grown. "It takes a whole village to rear a child". It takes a whole community to create a vocation. Most priests can readily identify a number of people whose encouragement gave them the confidence to offer themselves as candidates for priesthood.



Who is responsible here?


The responsibility for promoting vocations rests on the shoulders of all of us. The first person who has this duty in a Diocese is the Bishop. It is his task and the task of priests to make a major contribution to the work of vocations promotion. Here I want to acknowledge with gratitude the splendid work of Father Simon Cadam who has sought out candidates and encouraged them on the road to priesthood for many years. Other priests too have been the ones whose example and encouragement have brought candidates forward. Vocations Sunday each year gives us all an opportunity to speak about priesthood and our great desire to have people who will carry on the work after our time.


The members of St. Joseph's Young Priests' Society have been tireless in prayer and in fundraising for students for the priesthood. And I know that there are many people, some elderly and some housebound, whose prayer for vocations is continuous and is most precious.

We are greatly indebted to all of these.



Taking a fresh look.


What else is there that we can do? There are positive things we can do and there are negative ways of thinking to be avoided. Let us think about this under four headings: Ignoring, deploring, restoring and exploring.


1. Ignoring: We cannot conscientiously ignore our need for priests and religious in the Church. If we were talking about nurses instead of priests, we know very well that we would do no such thing. There is an outcry when the shortage of nurses in our hospitals is mentioned. We all know that we could get sick and need the help of nurses. Nurses are relevant. But so too are priests and we should not ignore the vocations question.


2. Deploring: This is what we do all too often. Those of us who are ordained to priesthood do it. Laity do it. Lamenting the drying up of vocations does only one thing: it just makes us feel badly. We all know that vocations are few but lamenting that this is so will not remedy the situation.


3. Restoring: This is another cul-de-sac. "We always had two priests in this parish". I have heard people say that kind of thing somewhat accusingly. There is an assumption there that somebody must be to blame for how things stand and that the situation could be put right, if there was a will to do it! In the past vocations came, for the most part, from second-level schools. Now the vast majority come from work. The old methods of discovering vocations are no longer enough.


4. Exploring: This is really what is needed. I believe that there are real possibilities around us. Some young people are involved in good work for the Church in various organisations, some in their parishes. Some of these may be the kind of people who are potential candidates for priesthood. I also believe that there are reflective, thoughtful people who are well aware that a wealthy Ireland is not necessarily a happy one. I believe there are always people around who greatly desire to make the world a better place. Putting before them the idea of priesthood calls for new and imaginative effort.


Much of the exploring must be done by lay people as well as priests. I would urge Pastoral Councils to put the vocations question on their agenda. If a Parish, priest and people, were to make the subject a real concern, I believe that this would give those who may have already thought about the idea greater confidence in themselves. For a start I would suggest to priests and people that they ask of themselves two questions:


(1) Is there someone I know that I believe would be a suitable candidate for the priesthood?


(2) Can I find/create a situation where I can ask this man does he think that he could be a priest?



Asking the Lord to send.


I mentioned the importance of prayer for vocations already and I return to the same subject now. Could we make a new effort to pray more regularly for vocations, publicly and privately? We have one simple prayer for vocations which is used throughout the country. Of course, you do not have to use this particular prayer.


Lastly, let me say one really important thing. I believe that difficulty in finding vocations is related to faith problems. When faith is weak, vocations are few. I have a cautious hope that faith will be seen to recover in the coming years. Increase in vocations will be a sure sign that this has begun to happen. When we pray and work for vocations we are doing one of the most valuable services possible for the Church.

May the Holy Spirit who fired the apostles with enthusiasm at Pentecost touch our hearts. Let fear never deter us for the Lord is with His Church for ever.


+ Bishop Colm O'Reilly

Archived References  
Bishop Colm's Christmas Message 2010
Statement by Bishop Colm O'Reilly on the Dublin Report
Bishop Colm O'Reilly video interview for Mission Sunday 2009
Message on Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock 2009
Homily by Bishop Colm for Trinity Sunday, on 150 years of SVP in Longford.
Bishop Colm's Pastoral Letter Easter 2009
Bishop Colm's Christmas Message 2008
Bishop's Letter to the Diocese, Easter 2008, 'on the way forward'.
Bishop's Message for the Year of Vocation
Bishop's Homily at Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock, Sept 2007
Message from Bishop Colm on Ferns Report
Message from Bishop Colm on the death of Pope John Paul II
Homily by Bishop Colm at Requiem Mass for Pope John Paul II in St. Mel's Cathedral, 7th April
Statement from the Bishop, 27th May 2006
Homily at Clonmacnois Pattern Day, 2006
Bishop's Christmas Message 2005
Message from Bishop Colm for Vocations Sunday 2005