Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Nov. 2-8 is National Vocation Awareness week. This week gives all of us an opportunity to ask ourselves, what are we individually doing to promote vocations in our family, in our schools, in our parishes and places of work? This week we center particularly on a call from God extended to those whom he is inviting to become priests and consecrated persons, including religious sisters and brothers. As I begin this letter, I would like to narrow your thoughts and ask you, what are you doing to ask and encourage young men to go to the seminary?
This is a very important question for us toanswer. Our diocese is in desperate need of priests. We now have more retired priests than active priests. We have 56 priests active in our diocese and 62 retired (and we are so grateful that many of these retired priests still help out in various parishes). We have only 14 seminarians spread out in eight years of formation.
God willing, I will ordain two of our deacons, Michael Cronin and Brian Feller to the priesthood on June 6, 2015. As we continue to look to the future of our parishes in terms of staffing them with priests, we know that some parishes are used to having several Mass times to choose from. We will not be able to have that schedule in the future. I do not want to overburden our priests to the point where they are run ragged and burn themselves out.
So, what are you doing to help increase the number of priests and seminarians? Can you do more in terms of presenting the idea of priesthood in a very positive way to your son, your grandson, an altar boy or a member of a youth group?
I am somewhat disappointed that so few of our seminarians have come from our Catholic high schools. We all need to ask why. Where are the vocations from Briar Cliff Catholic University? When we notice a young man at Mass who is obviously prayerful and attentive, do we ask him, “Have you ever thought about being a priest?” We just might plant a seed that one day will take root. My brothers and sisters, please pray and work for priestly vocations.
I recently met with a group of parish leaders concerned about the future of their parish. They said, “Bishop, can you assure us that we will always have a priest?” I told them that I would do the best I can, but asked them in return, “When are you going to give me a vocation from your parish?” Vocations come from our families and our parishes and nowhere else. Again, please make vocations a priority in your prayers.
Let’s look a little deeper into the meaning of a vocation. The root of each one’s vocation is baptism. Baptism makes us holy, by washing away original sin and all personal sin. Baptism makes us belong to Christ. We become part of his mystical body, the church, and we bear his holy name forever.
We all share this common vocation to holiness, and above that, we are each called to be faithful in a different way. Most of us have received the vocation to married life. Husbands and wives are called to be holy, precisely as spouses and parents. They grow in holiness, and they show forth their charity, through the daily struggle to love, honor, and obey each other. They serve their children by teaching them the faith, and good moral habits, and by preparing them to live a holy and happy life. They are the primary educators of their children, helping them discern what role God plans for each child, and encouraging openness to God’s call. They also serve the world by their holiness, embracing all that is good for strong homes and families, and rejecting all that is evil for homes and families.
Consecrated life is another path in the same vocation to holiness. Vowed religious women and men live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in communities shaped by one of many recognized charisms and rules of life. Consecrated virgins live the same counsels in another way, as individuals rather than in community. We are greatly blessed to have many vowed religious sisters in our diocese, from the Carmelite cloister of Our Lady of the Incarnation Monastery here in Sioux City to the generous ministry of many other orders and communities of sisters in our schools, parishes and other ministries. I thank all of you, sisters, for your daily witness to Christ your bridegroom, and I ask for your continued prayers and support for me, and the mission of the church.
Priesthood is the third great path in the same vocation to holiness. Deacons and priests are called by Christ to serve the church, especially in his paschal mystery. Deacons are “heralds of Christ,” proclaiming the Gospel in the ministries of the Word, the Sacraments, and Charity. Priests teach, sanctify, and serve the whole church as pastors.
These vocations, too, are under attack today. The devil hates holy priests especially, because of the power of Christ’s grace in the sacraments. Our zeal sometimes cools, the ardor of our faith softens. We need your prayers so much. Without your constant spiritual support, our ministry is so easily distracted from Christ, and we can become unhappy and “burned out.”
Just as you rely on us to bring you the sacraments, we also rely on you to enflame our love and faith. I thank God every day, not only for the zealous ministry of our priests and deacons, but also for all the prayers and support given daily by so many of our parishioners.
God gives every person a unique and necessary role in the church. Each of you is called by God to assist in her mission. Each of you is called in your baptism to live always in holy union with Christ. You may be called to married life, you may receive one of the many charisms for the religious life, or you may be called to serve as a deacon or a priest. In all these ways, the mission of the church depends on your faithful witness.
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart” (Ps 95:8). Do not hesitate to ask for the help of the church in your discernment. If you want to learn more about a priestly or religious vocation, please call Father Brad Pelzel, diocesan director of vocations, at (712) 233-7522.
Please pray continually for an increase in numbers, fidelity, and holiness in every vocation in the church. Please pray also for me, that I may be our Lord’s faithful servant in leading you to heaven.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City