By Father Joseph Sia
Most priests will probably tell you that part of their discernment included someone mentioning to them that they might have a “calling” to the priesthood. My first experience happened when I was a junior in high school. I received a letter from my spiritual director who said I had been chosen to be rector of a weekend retreat in our school.
I was overcome with emotion when I first read that letter because it was such an honor to be asked to take that position. It also made me aware that other people perceived in me the ability to be a spiritual leader, something that I never saw in myself. Serving as rector in that retreat made a lasting impact in my life. It made me more confident to act as someone who could guide others to Christ, and it happened in part because other people saw something in me and challenged me to act on it.
I did not enter seminary right away, though. Everything happened in God’s time. After graduating high school, I finished seven years of medical studies, worked a couple of years and then entered graduate school at the University of Iowa. Finally, I opened myself to the grace of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to take a leap of faith and answer God’s call to the priesthood. I had not forgotten that letter that I received when I was a high school junior. It is still tucked away somewhere in one of my drawers.
Many times, men and women who are considering vocations to the priesthood or religious life are hesitant to tell anyone else. They may be concerned about what others might say or afraid of how they will react. Some may not yet be sure and do not want to close doors to other possible vocations. Sometimes, a man may not even realize that he has traits that may make him a good priest or a woman may not think that she could be a religious sister.
As social beings, it is natural for us to ask one another for advice when making important life choices so that we can make the best decision. We find it helpful to hear from others who know us well and see us outside of ourselves. This is where the “Called by Name” initiative comes in. This initiative allows for prayerful discernment by clergy, parish and school leaders, family members and folks in the pews to think about who in their midst may be called by God to serve him as priests and consecrated persons.
Last Sunday, Feb. 16, was the launch date for “Called by Name.” Bishop Thomas Zinkula asked clergy to preach on vocation discernment and parishioners to pray and reflect on the individuals in their parish community they believe have a calling to the priesthood or consecrated life. Parishes provided a bulletin insert with a form for parishioners to fill in the name of those individuals ages high school sophomore and older.
Please return the form to your parish this weekend, Feb. 22-23. Pastors will sort through the forms and forward the information to the Vocations Office, which will follow up with those identified. The follow-up will include a personal letter from Bishop Zinkula and information on discernment events for women and men, reading materials and links to helpful online resources for continued growth in discovering a calling to the priesthood or the religious life.
Vocations discernment ought to involve the entire church community. It is everyone’s business to help each other know and live out their vocation. Parents ought to guide their children to discover God’s call for them; teachers ought to help their students realize their potential to dedicate their lives to the glory of God.
My hope is that this Called by Name effort continues even after this weekend. We need to be continually inviting others to consider the priesthood and religious life. This is one way we can exercise our baptismal roles as priest, prophet and king. Thank you for your cooperation with “Called by Name.” The person you invite today may be your parish priest someday!
(Father Sia is vocations director for the Davenport Diocese. Contact him at (563) 888-4255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)