+ Bishop Colm O'Reilly - Year of Vocations

We begin a special Year of Vocation on the 13th of April, Vocations Sunday. For the coming twelve months I hope we will put our best effort into promoting vocations. This will not be just a one year project, of course. It will, I hope, be the beginning of a sustained effort to promote vocations by prayer and by seeking out and encouraging candidates for the priesthood. I am keeping the main focus on vocation to priesthood because there is so great a need for priests at this time. However, I am not forgetting that the Church has need for Religious Sisters and Brothers. And, lest anyone should think otherwise, I must never fail to mention these and also the call of God to marriage and the single life. The Church would be the poorer if the variety of vocations we enjoy were not found among Christ's faithful people.


The life of a diocesan priest is challenging but immensely rewarding. I deliberately say this first because I believe that my saying so will not deter but encourage good candidates to offer themselves for ministry. An American priest whose life's work was preparing men for priesthood said the following recently: "Becoming a priest today is swimming upstream from start to finish. Staying a priest requires fidelity and heavy lifting. But here's the good bit: that's what builds character and strong men". He was speaking of students and priests in the U.S. The exact same can be said of what is needed in priesthood here.


It is hard to make any life commitment knowing our own frailty and the limits of our endurance. This is generally true and not just of priesthood but certainly of marriage as well. The choice of the vast majority of people is to make a commitment to marriage. A small minority of men and women choose a life of celibacy. Both are demanding and both are costly. But let us never forget that the Lord who calls wants us to be happy and fulfilled in life. If we are to find happiness, we must trust in the Lord who calls us and live with faithfulness the particular way of life we have chosen.


When Jesus spoke the words "come follow me" to his apostles, this was a call and not coercion. He once asked these same men when many were leaving Him: "will you also go away?" When Jesus calls us he respects our freedom. But we are not abandoned to struggle with our decision-making on our own. The Holy Spirit is with us. And the Spirit offers guidance in many forms, including the guidance we receive in prayer and the guidance we receive from those who listen to us over a period of time and help us to discover what the Lord is asking.


One of the most frequently quoted sentences from the Gospels whenever we speak of vocations goes as follows: "Pray the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest". It is fitting that this comes to mind whenever we think of vocations, our own or those of others. Any vocation promotion plans that we have must be based on prayer and centred on it. And I would like to say that we are truly blessed in continuing to have many people who pray regularly and consistently for vocations. It is people of real faith and hope who continue to do so in spite of seeing little enough by way of answer to their consistent prayer.


Whenever I have had a very welcome visit from a man who is interested in becoming a priest, I always ask him to pray. I believe that this is essential for him, knowing that the first requirement for a person who is to accept the Lord's call is to come to know Jesus himself. A line from the homily of Pope Benedict on the day of his inauguration can be applied to the priest as a man of prayer: "There is nothing more beautiful than to know Christ and to speak of others of our friendship with Him". At the very heart of a priest's life and work is coming to know Christ more intimately. Those of us who have been in ministry for many years know that the Christ for whom we search in prayer we meet constantly in the people to whom we minister.


Speaking of vocations in this current year I would like to introduce a personal note. I am celebrating twenty-five years as a Bishop in this year 2008. Because it is a milestone in my life I would like to mark it in some particular way. And what better way could I choose than putting once again before the people of the Diocese the importance of vocations to the priesthood? The invitation of men to join the priesthood must be a priority for people, priests and Bishop.


I am very happy to be able to say that I have spent twenty-three years as a priest and now twenty-five as Bishop, in all of that time being very fulfilled and happy in my ministry. Never for a moment have I regretted the fact that I responded to what I believed to have been a call of Christ to be his priest and a witness to the Gospel.


I entered Maynooth in 1953. Back then it was easier to hear the call of Christ, I believe. Success in life was less tied to well paid occupations. It was easier to talk about the possibility of being a priest when many of one's school mates had made that choice. It was easier for parents to be supportive of their sons who chose the priesthood when there was less fear that a man might be unhappy in his choice at a later date. All that I accept but I still can say that there was some fear and some uncertainty in my mind at that time.


Some of my own classmates assumed that I would choose priesthood, something which annoyed me at a time when I was far from sure that it was for me. The President of St Mel's College where I went to school took the same view and put it up to me on a particular day when I met him in the grounds of the school. At first that did not really please me either! And yet both he and my classmates did help me to decide. It is reassuring to hear that others think you can do something. There is a lesson to be learned for all of us here and now from that. Men who are unsure of themselves and their suitability for priesthood need a word of encouragement now more than ever. I ask priests, parents and parishioners to put vocation to priesthood to somebody they think could be a priest. Even though he may say that it is not for him, nothing is lost and he may well be happy to have had the suggestion put to him.


We will launch the Year for Vocation on the 13th of April in St Mel's Cathedral. As it happens this is the Sunday nearest to the twenty-fifth anniversary of my ordination as Bishop of the Diocese. The best Jubilee gift I could receive would surely be a new enthusiasm for vocations and more applicants for the seminary for the years ahead.

+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