Over the last decade I have seen a lot of young adults in spiritual direction, and accompanied a number of them as they decided whether to try out a religious or priestly vocation. About half of them were educated in Catholic schools, and the others not so. It seems that the quality of family life was the central factor in their decisions.
As the character of the New Zealand Church has changed because of the impact of growing numbers of immigrant families, the spiritual and theological framework of such candidates has notably shifted. There are still a few for whom the social justice or intellectual heritage of Catholicism is of most importance but more and more candidates come from families in which traditional and devotional practices are paramount.
This shift can be approached as either a problem or an opportunity. There is sometimes a trend by parish priests or liturgy committees to try to suppress what they view as folk religion. Others who cherish the social-justice and youth-advocacy arm of Church ministry as the only one with any future tend to see spirituality as a useful but subsidiary element in their work.
It seems to me that Pope Francis, especially in writings such as Laudato si’, provides us with a model of a better way. In this document he stresses how love of nature, scientific knowledge and strong moral and spiritual life are inextricably intertwined. Young adults gain great energy from meeting and praying and learning together. Where I have seen most energy springing is where formation programmes are strongly infused with prayer and worship that inspires and uplifts those who take part. Where such programmes welcome and embrace students of Pakeha, Pasifika and Asian backgrounds a deep sense of a unified Church emerges, and as a result, religious and priestly vocations are born. In such scenarios priests and religious are there to support, encourage and teach but not to impose their cultural and generational vision upon the young. Their main task is to winkle out and foster the potential leaders who will be future lay leaders – and some will go on to become priests and religious.
Fr Neil Vaney is Chaplain/Pastoral Director, Catholic Enquiry Centre, New Zealand.
Answering the call to ministry
Fr Trung Nguyen
“The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.”
Matthew 9: 37-38
Personally, I know the prayers of many people made it possible for me to answer the call to ordained ministry; your sacrifices have, in different ways, made it possible for me to make the sacrifices necessary to complete my formation and study; your prayers have kept me steady when moments of doubt and discouragement arose; your prayers have made it possible for me to be a priest for the Lord and his Church in this place.
With this in mind, I invite all the faithful to pray to the Lord to give courage to young people to respond generously to the call to priesthood and religious life. This is a responsibility for all the faithful as well. In this present age, many of us are afraid of commitment. It is even harder when it comes to vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
We can be reminded that the family is the domestic church therefore it plays an important part in forming and encouraging our young people to follow vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
As Pope St John Paull II wrote in his message on the XXXI world day of prayer for vocations: ‘the family can be considered a “garden” or a “first seminary” in which the seeds of vocation, which God sows generously, are able to blossom and grow to full maturity’.
I appeal to young men and women, do not be afraid to choose the vocation of priesthood or religious life. I do not say it is an easy journey, but I guarantee it is a journey full of peace and joy.
Fr Trung Nguyen is Vocations Director for the Diocese of Palmerston North and assistant priest at The Catholic Parish of Hastings. Originally from Vietnam, Fr Trung has been living in New Zealand since 2012.
Good Shepherd Sunday – 25 April 2021
Good Shepherd Sunday is a special day of prayer for vocations to the priesthood. The day also marks the start of the National Vocations Awareness Week.
Could someone you know become tomorrow’s priest?
Pray for this person.
Invite him to consider priesthood.
Affirm his gifts and qualities.
Encourage him to be open to the possibility of priesthood.
The harvest is plenty, and Good Shepherd Sunday is a great opportunity to pray that those to whom God calls will have the openness and courage to say ‘yes’.