Column: Priestly vocations depend on vocations to married life

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

When I was preparing for my ordination to the priesthood, I had very limited resources to purchase a chalice.

One of my seminary classmates informed me that the pastor of his home parish offered to make available to anyone in our ordination class a chalice of a deceased priest (Msgr. William Mullally). I gladly accepted this generous offer.

The chalice was much more beautiful than anything that I could have possibly afforded. My family had a small cross affixed to the base of the chalice with the diamonds of my mother’s engagement ring set into the cross. The cross, with the diamonds, serves to remind me every time I celebrate Mass to pray for my parents and to give thanks that my vocation, as a priest, is the fruit of their vocation as a married couple.

The vocations of priesthood and marriage are intimately connected. Most priestly vocations are born in families where the Catholic faith is lived faithfully and celebrated joyfully. It is in the environment of vibrant Catholic families that young men realize the importance of the Eucharist, the sacramental life of the church and the importance of the priesthood.

At the same time, the ministry of the diocesan priest is at the service of the family. The life of the priest is devoted, in part, to helping prepare couples for marriage; to providing spiritual nourishment for married couples, so that they can grow daily in their love for each other in the Lord; to counseling and providing assistance to couples who are facing challenges in their marriage; and to assisting parents in their responsibility as the primary teachers of their children of our Catholic faith.

Recently, I received a Christmas card from a woman who was a teenager in the parish where I was first assigned to serve as a priest in 1975. She is married and raising a family.

Her Christmas card included the following note: “As the year draws to a close, we reflect on our blessings. I am struck by how generous and good our God is. So many days we take the small things for granted. This past year brought some challenges our way, and yet I look back with gratitude for the difficulties, and for the grace to carry the load, and the gift of strengthened faith that comes as a result. We appreciate so much the service you do for all of us! If there is a debt that we can never repay, it is the priesthood that serves us so faithfully and brings us our greatest gifts in the sacraments!! For the Christmas that comes every day in the Eucharist, I thank you!! And for the grace that it imparts, I stand in awe!”

This Sunday, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. This feast reminds us that God chose to fully immerse himself in our humanity by becoming a member of a human family. The life of Jesus in Nazareth with Mary and Joseph illustrates the importance and sacredness of family life. I look at the cross on my chalice and I realize my debt to my parents that I can never repay — a debt for the gift of life, but, even more, a debt for the gift of my Catholic faith and life in Jesus Christ.

One of the true blessings of my life now is the opportunity to spend time with the family of my nephew, David. Dave and Dee Dee have three children and are expecting their fourth. I admire their generosity and openness to being co-creators with God of new human life.

Their children are a joy for our family. At the same time, their children are a lot of work and require Dave and Dee Dee to make heroic sacrifices. I admire their dedication and zeal in their vocation as Christian parents. Being around them inspires me to strive to be a better spiritual father, a better priest, a better bishop.

I am impressed by the goodness and beauty of so many of our families throughout the Archdiocese. Family life is the foundation of culture, country and church. Strong families make for a healthy nation and a vibrant church. Good priests are the result of healthy, faith-filled families. Healthy, faith-filled families need zealous, holy priests to nourish them with the Eucharist and to nurture them with preaching the Gospel. The vocations of the priesthood and Christian marriage are intimately connected.

On the weekend of Jan. 2-5, I will be participating in the annual Archbishop’s Quo Vadis Retreat for Vocations. We hope to have more than 20 young men — college age or older — who will be making this retreat. The retreat is designed for men who are attempting to determine if they should enter the seminary to discern a vocation to the priesthood.

This year our seminarians will help give the conferences, sharing their own vocation discernment experiences. I will celebrate Mass with the retreatants, preach and meet individually with each man making the retreat.

It is still possible to register for the retreat. If you are a young man who is trying to figure out if God is calling you to serve as a priest, this retreat is designed for you. You can register online at the Web site: kckvocations.com. If you know a young man who you think might have a call to the priesthood, encourage him to make this retreat. Whether he is called to enter the seminary or not, I am confident that he will benefit from the retreat and will be blessed for giving this time to the Lord.

Also, I ask everyone in the Archdiocese to pray for the young men who will be making this Quo Vadis Retreat. “Quo Vadis” is Latin for “Where are you going?” This is the question Peter asked Jesus when Jesus appeared as Peter was fleeing Rome at a time of persecution. Jesus responded by saying that he was going to Rome to be crucified again. Peter turned around and went back to Rome where he was martyred with many other Roman Christians.

Pray that many of the young men on the retreat will hear Jesus inviting them to follow him in the heroic life of priestly ministry so that your children and grandchildren will have priests to serve them and to make Christmas available every day through the Eucharist.

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