During the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI designated “Good Shepherd Sunday” (at that time the 2nd Sunday after Easter), as a World Day of Prayer for Vocations. This Sunday, this year, marks the 50th annual such World Day of Prayer for Vocations. “The problem of having a sufficient number of priests”, Pope Paul stated at the time, “has an immediate impact on all of the faithful: not simply because they depend on it for the religious future of Christian society, but also because this problem is the precise and inescapable indicator of the vitality of faith and love of individual parish and diocesan communities, and the evidence of the moral health of Christian families. Wherever numerous vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life are to be found, that is where people are living the Gospel with generosity” (Radio Message, 11 April 1964).
A lot has happened in the intervening half-century that neither Pope Paul, nor the Council Fathers, nor anyone else anticipated. One of the great blessings the post-conciliar experience has been the great growth and expansion of the Church in so much of the world, which has made the Church truly universal to an unprecedented degree. That universality has received further recognition and visibility this year in the election of the first Latin American Pope, the first Pope from the so-called “Global South,” and the first non-European Pope in over 1000 years. (The Pope himself will observe tomorrow's World Day of Prayer for Vocations by officiating at the ordination of new priests in St Peter's Basilica.) At the same time, while growth and expansion have been happening elsewhere, here in North America (and even more so in Europe) the Church has encountered unexpected new challenges, all of which are making the promotion of vocations to ordained ministry and to religious life that much more urgent. The annual observance of this World Day of Prayer for Vocations is intended to highlight the importance of such vocations in the life of the Church and to encourage all of us – whatever our individual calling in life – to encourage and promote religious vocations in our personal prayer and in our parish’s pastoral action.
It is, therefore, an urgent responsibility of the entire Catholic community to care about vocations both for the service of our local Churches in the United States and for the service of the Universal Church throughout the world. Obviously, helping potential priests, deacons, and religious men and women to sort out how best to follow God’s call must be a common concern of all.
When he was a twenty-something himself, Servant of God Isaac Hecker wrote: “Happy are they who find out in their youth what all men discover at some period of life, that god, and God alone, can satisfy the inmost wants of the soul, and who consecrate themselves to His service with all the freshness and purity of their youthful energy” (From a letter written by Fr. Hecker while a Redemptorist novice, St. Trond, Belgium, 1846).