So I just call them?” “Yes, that’s what they’re praying for!” This was the short conversation I had with a friend just before calling the vocation director to apply to the seminary. I thought it should have involved some long drawn-out undertaking; I could not believe that it was so simple to start the application process. Now, as vocation director, I get phone calls or emails asking questions about the seminary, how someone goes about becoming a priest, or just about the whole question of discernment in general. Most people do not really know what is involved in someone pursuing a call to the priesthood. Even fewer have a good sense of how they can discern, or figure out, whether or not God is calling them to follow Him in the priesthood or religious life. I have also found that people may sometimes be embarrassed to ask about these things. They may assume that most Catholics know the answers to the questions they have. So to avoid looking ignorant, they do not ask what is on their minds.
Oftentimes when someone asks me a question about my work at the seminary or the office of vocations, it is prefaced with, “This may be a stupid question, but…” The truth is that not only are these questions not “stupid,” but they are quite intelligent and probably something other members of the faithful are asking themselves. This point was made even more evident to me just recently at a party. Talking with one of the guests, himself a practicing Catholic, I was surprised to find that he had a number of questions about different aspects of vocations work or priestly ministry. Afterward, I was thinking about this conversation and others that I have had like them. One evening I was talking about this with a brother priest who suggested that it might be a good idea to start a column in Catholic New York that could answer questions about vocations or other aspects of priestly life in the model of ‘Dear Abby” where people could anonymously send questions that I would answer. This seemed like a great idea and one that would also highlight the vocations office and some of the work we are doing as well. Every so often I can include a short vocation story from one of the men studying at the seminary or one of the religious sisters who is either in formation for her order or already in vows. This will also afford me the opportunity to inform the faithful here in the archdiocese about what events are going on for vocations and discernment.
It is so important for us to remember that vocations are everyone’s business. From parish priests to the families that we minister to, we all have our part to play in the work of encouraging more young men to consider the call to follow Christ as a priest and young women to open their heart to the Lord’s voice to become a religious sister. The more we know and understand about the Church and the way in which people respond to the call of Christ, the better equipped we will be to get behind the important work of supporting those who are thinking about giving their life to the Lord in humble, sacrificial service.
Although this column will be generally focused on vocations there may be other questions on your mind related to the priesthood and religious life in general. For example, someone may be curious about the difference between a religious sister and a nun (yes, there is a difference), or how much education you need before beginning seminary. If there is a question you would like answered, you can email it to my office at email@example.com. I look forward to receiving your questions and working together as we seek to build a culture of vocations.
Father Argano is director of vocations for the archdiocese. View on Vocations will appear monthly, alternating between Catholic New York newspaper and its website, cny.org.