Last month Bishop Robert Gruss shared with the people of God in the Diocese of Rapid City some good news and some not-so-good news about the priest situation in our diocese. The bishop affirmed how grateful he was for the many wonderful and dedicated priests he has and the work they are doing. They are clearly striving to be true witnesses of the love and mercy of the Lord.
Bishop Gruss also mentioned the challenging reality of covering our current places for ministry in the coming years. Priest retirements coupled with not having another ordination until the summer of 2019, this news can leave us in a spirit of desolation.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his work with “discernment of spirits,” says in the sixth rule: “It is very advantageous to change ourselves intensely against the desolation itself, as by insisting more upon prayer, meditation, upon much examination, and upon extending ourselves in some suitable way of doing penance.”
This is exactly what Bishop Gruss is asking of each of us — as individuals, families, parishioners and parishes. He is “insisting more upon prayer” and pleading with us to seriously take to heart the call to pray daily for vocations to the priesthood in our diocese. He is also asking that we pray daily for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our diocese and for his guidance so that there will not be a priest shortage this year and in the coming years.
Wow, what a challenge! I hope you are up for it. It will require you to be more intentional and more sacrificial in your prayer life, to fervently beg the Lord as we hear in the Gospel of Luke: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, beg the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Lk 10:2).
Every time we go to prayer our Heavenly Father, through his Son, Jesus, invites us and asks us, as he asked Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” In the Gospel, the blind man replied, “Master, I want to see” (Mk 10:51). Our response, too, is clear and simple: “Jesus, send us more seminarians and priests for our diocese — we beg you Lord!”
This past month, Bishop Gruss also introduced a new prayer for vocations, which was written collaboratively with the help of several clergy and laity. The bishop has invited our entire diocese to pray this new prayer with its new words with a lively faith. His invitation reminds of the scripture passage “that new wine is put into fresh wineskins” (Mt 9:17).
As a diocese we have been praying the old vocation prayer in our parishes for more than 40 years, and we know it by heart. We know it so well that perhaps it has become too rote for us. Have we lost our fervor to pray the vocation prayer with a beggar’s heart?
Begin to pray the new vocation prayer using the method of Lectio Divina, a Latin term for divine reading. We can do this individually, and in families and small group settings. Lectio Divina helps us let go of our own agenda and to open ourselves to what God wants to say to us.
When praying through the new vocations prayer using this method, pay attention to which word, words, or phrases tug at your heart or get your attention. How do these words or phrases connect to your life, to your family, to your parish, and to our diocese?
Talk to God about these words and phrases that tugged at your heart and share everything with him — share your thoughts, feelings and desires. Then simply listen and God will speak to you. At that point, think about what you can do to act upon what God has revealed to you. In the end, thank the Lord and let your heart be filled with gratitude for what he is doing in your life and in the life of your family, parish and diocese.
Parents, as you begin to pray this new vocational prayer with your children, think of them as possible recipients of a vocational call to priesthood and/or religious life. It is so easy to think of Jesus calling other parents’ children, but your own children? This can be more challenging.
It is my hope that as families start praying this new vocation prayer together, parents will begin to share with their children — in very intentional ways — the possibility that they, whether in elementary school, middle school, high school or young adulthood, may be receiving a call to priesthood or religious life.
I thought a lot about Bishop Gruss’ invitation to pray seriously for vocations to priesthood and for a fresh, daily outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon our diocese. In light of St. Ignatius’ advice “extending ourselves in some suitable way of doing penance,” I am going to fast every Thursday as a reminder of the Last Supper.
In a letter to priests on Holy Thursday in 2004, Saint John Paul II said “We were born from the Eucharist. If we can truly say that the whole Church lives from the Eucharist … we can say the same thing about the ministerial priesthood: it is born, lives, works and bears fruit ‘de Eucharistia.’ There can be no Eucharist without the priesthood, just as there can be no priesthood without the Eucharist.”
If you are interested in joining me in fasting on Thursdays as we fervently beg the Lord to send us more seminarians and priests, please send me your name, address, email and phone number. Together we will pray that more priests are fostered and nurtured in families as married couples live their vocation in the Spirit of Christ.