This document from the Congregation for Clergy was published on December 8, 2007. I think it is one of the most beautiful documents ever produced by the Vatican.
Here is a copy to be downloaded:
I also append a few articles in which I’ve written about aspects of this document:
Fr. Roger J. Landry
April 27, 2012
This weekend, on Good Shepherd Sunday, the Church will convene in parishes across the globe to carry out the Good Shepherd’s imperative to beg the Father for good shepherds to continue the work of tending and feeding the Lord’s flock. Jesus foresaw that there would always be a need for shepherds after His own heart and taught the Church ahead of time how to respond. “The harvest is plentiful,” He said, “but the laborers are few. Therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers for His harvest” (Mt 9:38). That is what the Church will faithfully be doing on Sunday.
In order to concentrate the attention of the Church to the importance of praying for and promoting priestly vocations, for the last 49 years the pope has been writing a message to the faithful for this occasion, focusing each year on various aspects of vocational promotion. This year Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter entitled, “Vocations, the Gift of the Love of God.” His essential point was that — in the midst of a secularist society pervaded by material concerns, pleasure-seeking, and radical autonomy from God and others that considers the poor, chaste and obedient priesthood a waste of one’s life — the only way to comprehend and foster priestly vocations is to begin with the love of God. “The profound truth of our existence is contained in this surprising mystery, that every creature, and in particular every human person, is the fruit of God’s thought and an act of His life, a love that is boundless, faithful and everlasting,” Pope Benedict writes. “The discovery of this reality is what truly and profoundly changes our lives.”
That wondrous love of God, present in creation, was shown even more resplendently in the redemption, when God Himself became one of us to save us, and continues in the Church, which the God Who is love instituted in order to continue His work of service, sanctification and salvation until the end of time. That is the context of priestly vocations. “Every specific vocation is born of the initiative of God; it is a gift of the Love of God!,” the Holy Father exclaims. The first step in vocational awareness is to reawaken to the incredible reality of the love of God in general and how the priesthood is an expression of God’s loving us “to the extreme,” which is how St. John introduces the scene of the Last Supper in which Christ ordained His first shepherds. Pope Benedict writes these words, it’s safe to infer, because he believes in many places in our desacralized world, even among Christians, consciousness of the immensity of God’s love has been lost. That’s why he says that “the appealing beauty of this Divine love … needs to be proclaimed ever anew, especially to the younger generations.”
The experience of being loved never leaves us unmoved. When someone says, “I love you,” there is a natural inner impulse to reply with sincerity, “I love you, too.” When someone truly awakens to and experiences even a glimpse of the enormity of God’s love, one can begin to understand the concluding words of a famous English hymn, “Love so amazing, so Divine, demands my life, my soul, my all!” Jesus’ first disciples were able to leave their boats and tax-collecting tables behind when Jesus called them because they discovered that God’s love was far more valuable than a big catch and money. Likewise, when the young open their lives to God’s love, the Holy Father says, they begin to recognize that the “high standard of Christian life consists in loving ‘as’ God loves, with a love that is shown in the total, faithful and fruitful gift of self. … It is in this soil of self-offering and openness to the love of God, and as the fruit of that love, that all vocations are born and grow.” Boys raised in homes and in parishes that are inflamed with love of God and for God, that regularly sacrifice out of love for Him and for others, are the seed beds or seminaries in which a priestly vocation to total loving service of God and His people can be more easily discerned. There really is never a “vocations” or “calling” crisis in the Church, because God never ceases to call young men to the priesthood, but rather because of a scant awareness of God’s love and a meager response to it, there’s a crisis in “hearing” that vocation. The soil in which the seeds of priestly vocations develop has to be irrigated by consciousness of God’s love and fertilized by the practice of true Christian love for God and others in homes and parish communities.
There’s a tremendous example of this type of vocational soil in a superb prayer booklet published in 2007 by the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy. Entitled “Adoration, Reparation and Spiritual Motherhood for Priests,” it lifted up as a model of the type of prayer to the Lord of the harvest that was done in the tiny village of Lu Monferrato in northern Italy. In 1881, when secularism and virulent anti-clericalism were becoming increasingly pronounced, the mothers of this tiny village of a few thousand inhabitants, conscious of the need for priestly vocations, began to gather each Tuesday afternoon for eucharistic adoration to ask the Harvest Master to send priestly laborers. They would together make the following prayer: “O God, grant that one of my sons may become a priest! I myself want to live as a good Christian and want to guide my children always to do what is right, so that I may receive the grace, O God, to be allowed to give You a holy priest!” That prayer, their fervent desire for vocations, and their home’s and parish’s great awareness of the love of God in the blessing of priestly vocations, bore more fruit than any of them could have ever imagined. In the span of a few decades, this one village parish — smaller than many parishes in the Diocese of Fall River — produced 152 priestly vocations and 171 religious women to 41 different congregations.
“The ability to foster vocations is a hallmark of the vitality of a local Church,” Pope Benedict wrote last year. To be spiritually alive, dioceses — and the parishes and families that comprise them — should be generating vocations just as good trees bear good fruit. Few places will be as vocationally prodigious as Lu Monferrato, but every parish and diocese ought to be as committed to prayer and encouraging young people to consider a priestly vocation as were the mothers there. There is a helpful rule-of-thumb promoted by vocations directors: there would never be a shortage of priests in any diocese if each parish were to have just one young man enter the seminary every eight years. With typical attrition rates in seminaries — some who enter the seminary eventually discern that their vocation is elsewhere — this would mean that every parish would have at least one native son ordained a priest every 12 years. Here in the Diocese of Fall River, if every parish were able to achieve this frequency, there would be, on average, eight priestly ordinations a year. Since most priests, if they remain healthy and faithful, will labor at least 30-40 years in the trenches, that would mean there would be about 240-320 priests at any given time divided among the parishes, hospitals, high schools and other ministries of the diocese.
This one-in-eight goal is achievable. In practical terms it means that in a Catholic elementary school with 200 students, approximately 100 of whom are boys, that at least one boy presently in the school would enter the seminary down the road. One out of a hundred. For a parish without a school but with a Faith Formation program of 400 kids, the goal would plant the seed of a priestly vocation in all of them in the hope that it would flower later in at least one of the roughly 200 boys. While there is obviously no way in most circumstances for parishioners to know for certain that a particular young boy has a priestly vocation, there is also no way to know that a young boy does not. It would be hard to imagine that the Harvest Master would not be calling any of the young boys in a particular parish to the priesthood. If each one is treated as one whom the Lord of love might be calling to be a priest in the future, then the odds will surely increase that those whom the Harvest Master is calling to follow Him in this way will hear that call and respond with his life, his soul, his all.
Fr. Roger J. Landry
January 15, 2010
When civil governments declare a special year — like last year’s celebrations of the bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln — it generally remains on the periphery of most people’s lives. When the Church, however, declares an ecclesiastical holy year — like the Years of the Rosary, the Eucharist, St. Paul and the present Year for Priests — it is meant to have a central influence on how individual Catholics and the Church as a whole live and worship throughout the year.
The Catholic Church in the United States is now in the midst of the 25th annual National Vocation Awareness Week, which concludes tomorrow. On Monday the Church throughout the world will begin the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year both of these periods of prayer can and should be enhanced by the larger ecclesiastical Year for Priests we’re celebrating.
2010 marks the 35th National Vocation Awareness Week, which begins on the feast of the baptism of the Lord and continues throughout the first week of Ordinary Time. The timing is to meant to indicate that by our baptism every Catholic has been called to holiness, and that for most of us that holiness is to be sought and lived in our ordinary day-to-day lives. The U.S. Bishops ask us during these days to reflect upon the vocational meaning of our existence and to pray for others that they may awaken to the revelation of the Lord’s plans for them. In particular, they ask us to make an extra effort to pray for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life; for those God is calling to the single life as celibates in the world; and for those with the vocation to marriage, that they might seek the sanctification of their spouses and children.
During this Year for Priests, this week of prayer and education is a time to recognize just how crucial the vocation to the priesthood is to the life of the Church: without the priesthood and the sacraments the priest makes possible, it would be much more difficult — almost impossible — for any of the baptized to live out their vocation to sanctity. It is, therefore, also an occasion to pray to the Harvest Master with gratitude and supplication for those who are already priests, those in formation for the priesthood, those discerning a priestly vocation and those yet totally unaware that God is calling them to this path of holiness and the sanctification of others.
In late 2007, the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy — in recognition of the truths that the priesthood is essential to the universal call to holiness and that in some places priestly vocations are in short supply — began a worldwide effort asking the people of God to pray for priestly vocations. In a beautiful and highly-recommended booklet entitled “Adoration, Reparation and Spiritual Motherhood for Priests,” it lifted up as a model of the type of prayer it was proposing the tiny village of Lu Monferrato in northern Italy. In 1881, a time of increasing secularism and virulent anti-clericalism, the mothers of this tiny village of a few thousand inhabitants, conscious of the need for priestly vocations, began to gather each Tuesday afternoon for Eucharistic adoration to ask the Harvest Master to send priestly laborers. They would make together the following prayer: “O God, grant that one of my sons may become a priest! I myself want to live as a good Christian and want to guide my children always to do what is right, so that I may receive the grace, O God, to be allowed to give you a holy priest! Amen!” That prayer, and their fervent desire for vocations, bore more fruit than any of them could have ever imagined. In the span of a few decades, this one village parish — much smaller than many of the parishes in the Diocese of Fall River — produced 152 priestly vocations and 171 religious women to 41 different congregations.
The same Lord who abundantly answered their prayers still listens attentively and lovingly to ours. This National Vocation Awareness Week, within the Year for Priests, is a propitious time for all of us in the Church to pray for priestly vocations with even greater trust and perseverance that the people of Lu Monferrato, because the need for priests today is even greater.
The Year for Priests is also supposed to have an influence on how we experience the Octave for Christian Unity, which begins on Monday and culminates, as it always does, on the January 25th feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the priest-apostle who worked so hard not only to build the Church but to keep it united as “one body and one spirit” with “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all” (Eph 4:4-6).
During this Year for Priests, the principle focus, as in everything the Church does, is meant to be on Jesus Christ, the eternal high priest. When we examine his “great priestly prayer,” made to the Father on the night before he was executed, we see that he prayed principally for two things: for the holiness of the apostles and all those to whom they would hear the Gospel through them; and for unity among all believers, “that they may be all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you” (Jn 17:20-21). As priest, during the first Mass, Jesus prayed that our unity with each other be as complete as the perfect unity that exists between the persons of the Blessed Trinity.
We might be tempted to dismiss Jesus’ prayer as something that, however beautiful, is clearly unachievable. Jesus, however, would never have prayed for something intrinsically impossible because prayer for him was not an exercise in “wishful thinking.” Moreover, it is inconceivable that God the Father would refuse the prayer of his Son. Before he raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus gave witness to this truth, saying, “I thank you, Father, for having heard me. I know that you always hear me” (Jn 11:42). Therefore, if Jesus were praying that we be one, that we be as united among ourselves as the Persons in the Blessed Trinity are united, then that must mean it is not impossible and that the Father heard that prayer.
While it is true that full communion will be finalized in heaven in the communion of saints, it is also clear that Jesus was praying for it in this world. During the same discourse he said, “I am not asking you to take them [us] out of the world.” He wanted us to be “in” the world without being “of” it, and gave us the reason why: our unity in this world was to be the greatest sign of all of who God is and how God loves us. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you,” he implored, “may they also be in us, so that … the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (Jn 17:15-23). Christian unity, in other words, will be the greatest testimony of God’s love and of the truth of Christ’s words and deeds. Division among Christians, on the contrary, will obscure that truth and love — and obviously has over the course of history.
If this communion with God and with each other meant so much to the Lord that he poured out his heart praying for it in his great priestly prayer to the Father, then each of us who loves the Lord Jesus must make it our life’s mission to pray and work to bring about that communion of love. Priests and faithful alike, especially during this Year for Priests, need to support our High Priest in this, his ardent priestly desire.
Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting Into the Deep
January 11, 2008
The vast majority of priests and religious say that the nourishment of their divine vocations began at home. It was in the domestic Church that they first learned about God — who he is, how he loves us, and what he expects of us. It was from their parents that they saw the centrality of God in human life and learned how to pray, how to love, how to forgive and ask forgiveness. It was from example of their faith that they grasped the importance of the Church, the Eucharist and confession, the commandments, virtues and works of mercy. It was also from them that they learned a loving reverence and fascination for the priests, brothers and women religious whom God had mysteriously called to his service and theirs.
While not discounting the contributions of fathers and siblings, in most homes most of the credit for this Christian upbringing goes to mothers. They are the principal masons laying the foundation for their children’s future growth in faith. They are the “spiritual breast-feeders,” who allow their children to be nourished by their own faith. There’s an expression among priests that “behind every vocation stands a woman,” and in most cases that woman has their mother’s face.
One mother can make an enormous difference. Last month, the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy brought the contributions of just such a mother to worldwide notice. In its beautiful booklet, “Adoration, Reparation and Spiritual Motherhood for Priests,” the Congregation told the inspiring story of Eliza Vaughan, a Welsh wife and mother who, in 23 years of marriage, gave real meaning to the expression “spiritual maternity.”
Born into a traditional and sophisticated Anglican family, Eliza, as a young woman, fell in love a Catholic army officer, Colonel John Francis Vaughan. He was the descendent of one of Britain’s most famous Catholic families, which, during the anti-Catholic persecutions of the late 1500s, had given refuge to clandestine priests, and suffered imprisonment, loss of property and other indignities rather than betray the faith. For them to wed, Eliza needed to take instruction to become a Catholic, which she did over the strong objections of her family. For her, this process of conversion was not just an external formality, but a time of enthusiastic re-evaluation of who she was and how she could best praise God and share, according to her vocation as a wife and mother, in the mission of the Church he founded.
The first thing she resolved to do was to try to cooperate with God in bringing to life a large family that could form a choir around her and her husband to the praise and glory of God. The Lord abundantly blessed her desire: over her 23 years of marriage, she gave birth to 14 children, 13 of whom lived into adulthood. But generously bearing children was only part of what she saw as her mission; she also wanted to rear them to dedicate their lives to God’s service.
For that reason, early in her marriage, she caught her husband off-guard by proposing to him that they explicitly offer all of their children back to God. She began to make a holy hour each day in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament begging the Lord to give her children religious vocations. There would be no greater means, she thought, by which her children could add to the glory of God. Since vocations are always a gift from God and not something that a parent should try to manipulate, she resolved to keep this intention to herself and “pressure” God, not her children. She also tried to structure their upbringing in such a way that they would learn that God deserves the best of their time and talents. Like many children today, the Vaughan kids were involved in everything — studies, theater, sports, music lessons, even horseback riding — but they also prayed each day as a family, attended daily Mass, listened at night to the lives of the saints, and accompanied their mother on visits to the sick and the needy.
Her offering, insistent secret prayers and family priorities bore fruit. When her oldest son, Herbert, at the age of 16 shared with her that he thought God was calling him to be a priest, she smiled and said, “Child, I have known it for a long time.” Little did she know at the time that he would eventually become the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the founder of the Millhill Missionaries.
But that was the first of many such conversations. Roger was next. He sensed the vocation to become a Benedictine; he eventually became a prior and later the Archbishop of Sydney, Australia. Kenelm became a Cistercian. Joseph entered the Benedictines and eventually founded a new abbey. Bernard became a Jesuit. John, the youngest, born shortly before Eliza’s death, was ordained a priest by his eldest brother and later became an auxiliary bishop.
Among the girls, Gladis became a Visitation sister, Teresa a Sister of Mercy, Claire a Poor Clare, and Mary an Augustinian prioress. Margaret, the fifth and last daughter, after years of being refused entrance to a convent because of illness, was able to enter later in life.
Of John’s and Eliza’s 13 adult children, six became priests and five religious sisters. The two other brothers married and kept up the family estate, which, now, by God’s providence, has become a Catholic shrine dedicated to “Our Lady of Vocations,” where prayer for vocations continues to this day.
Eliza Vaughan shows the difference one woman, one mother, can make — and how to make it.
As we begin National Vocations Awareness Week on Sunday, we pray, through her intercession, that other young mothers may share her faith, generosity, holy desires, holy means, and fruit.