by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Several weeks ago, I visited the convent of the Little Sisters of the Lamb in Kansas City, Kan., to pray Sunday vespers. The Sisters celebrate vespers in the context of eucharistic adoration, concluding with Benediction.
Two neighbor children — a sevenyear-old girl and her brother, who had just turned six — joined us for eucharistic adoration and Benediction. I was amazed at the attentiveness and prayerfulness of these young children.
After Benediction, the Little Sisters introduced me formally to their young visitors. The little boy was proudly wearing a St. John Vianney medal that a priest friend of the Sisters had given to him. The Sisters asked me if I would bless the medal and give the young boy a special birthday blessing. I was pleased to accommodate their request. I placed my hand on the boy’s head and prayed a special blessing for their young friend.
Some days later, the boy came back to visit the Little Sisters. He told the Sisters that he had a secret. Without much encouragement, the little boy volunteered his secret was that he was going to be a priest.
The Little Sisters commended him for this beautiful desire, but they felt obligated to tell him that he first needed to become a Catholic! Then, he would need to work hard in school so he could go to the seminary in order to study theology. The Sisters told their six-year-old friend that a bishop has to call you to ordination, pray over you, and place his hands on your head, calling down the Holy Spirit. The little boy, quite excitedly, reminded the Little Sisters that the archbishop had already prayed over him, placed his hands on his head and blessed him.
Pope Benedict XVI, during his visit to the United States, counseled that the solution to the crisis of vocations to the priesthood and to religious life is to foster prayer in our young people. He assured us if our young people cultivate their friendship with Jesus in prayer, then many will hear his call to them to serve him and his people as priests and religious Sisters.
The past two weekends, our archdiocesan vocation office sponsored Project Andrew programs — two weeks ago at Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka and this past Sunday at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee. Project Andrew programs are directed to high school boys whom their pastors and others think could make very good priests. The program is called Project Andrew, because in St. John’s Gospel, Andrew, after meeting Jesus, immediately finds his brother Peter and brings him to Jesus.
I was impressed by the number and quality of the young men who participated. In my brief remarks to the Project Andrew participants, I told them that it was not my primary desire for them to be priests. My foremost wish for them is that they would listen to the Lord, understand his will, and have the courage to follow God’s will wherever it leads them.
I encouraged them to pray, especially just after receiving the Eucharist or in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, asking God to make clear to them his will.
Our Archdiocese needs many more priests. If it were not for more than a dozen priests from other countries serving in the Archdiocese, I would be compelled to close several parishes. I hope we always have many international priests serving in the Archdiocese. They enrich the life of our local church and are beautiful reminders that we are part of a worldwide community of believers. However, as much as God has blessed the people of northeast Kansas, we should not be dependent on other parts of the world to supply priests for our parishes. In fact, we should be sending priests to serve in other parts of the world.
I have no doubt that God is calling a sufficient number of young men from our Archdiocese to the priesthood. However, it is difficult in our culture for a young man to hear God’s call and to have the generosity to accept God’s invitation to serve his people as a priest.
Part of the problem is that sometimes we adults ask our young people the wrong questions. We ask them: What do you want to become? We should be asking them: What do you think God wants you to do with your life? Or we ask them: What college do you want to attend? We should be asking them: How is your prayer life?
There are some encouraging signs. Ten excellent new men entered the seminary for our Archdiocese this year. The Archdiocese currently has 26 men studying for the priesthood. We ordained three men to the priesthood this year, but we will ordain only one man next year. In order to grow our presbyterate we need to ordain, on average, four men a year.
I am convinced it is very possible for us to ordain more than four new priests each year. However, for this to happen, everyone in the Archdiocese needs to pray for vocations to the priesthood. In our parishes — and even more importantly, in our families — we need to encourage young men to consider a vocation to the priesthood. We need to be asking our young people the right questions: How is your prayer life? What does God want you to do with your life?
Finally, we need to teach our young people how to pray and for what to pray. If my six-year-old non-Catholic friend can understand that possibly Jesus is calling him to be a priest, I am convinced that our Catholic young people, praying in the presence of our eucharistic Lord, will discover the secret of Jesus’ unique love for them and discover his mysteriously beautiful plan for their life.