Serra Club of Richmond Virginia


Serra Club of Richmond

Church Vocations: Is God Calling Me?
by Rev. Michael A. Renninger Vicar for Vocations
What do the following people have in common?
  • a 35 year old actuary who spent the last two years teaching Math in Africa
  • a former professional actor from Newport News
  • a 31 year old Richmond trumpet player who had a successful career in telecommunications
  • a fraternity brother from William and Mary
  • a 26 year old Roanoke golfer who holds an MBA degree
  • a native of Uganda who had to flee the civil war in Eritrea
  • a 25 year old congressional staffer who spent a year volunteering in the Dominican Republic
  • a man from Columbia who wants to improve on his English
What do they have in common? They all became seminarians for the Diocese of Richmond this year!
Thanks to the prayers and good works of people from around our diocese, we have seen a remarkable increase in the number of young people who are considering vocations to the priesthood, religious life, and church ministry. In fact, the last time our diocese accepted eight new candidates into its seminary program, Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States!
Our eight new seminarians come to us with a remarkable diversity of experience and talent. Some are natives of Virginia, others came to our diocese to attend college (3 went to William and Mary!). Some have advanced degrees, others are recent college graduates. Two of them volunteered for ministry in foreign lands, while another volunteered to coach the golf team at a local school. Some went to Catholic schools, others attended public schools. Some guys took classes in philosophy and religion while in college, others were more interested in fraternity parties! Some were very active in parishes and campus ministry programs, while others went through a period where they didn't go to Mass all that often. Some of them love Elvis Presley, and the others had better learn to if they ever want to be ordained!!! (the smart seminarians have already figured out that the Vicar for Vocations is an Elvis fan!)
This wonderful diversity will be a blessing to our seminarian community as they begin their studies this year. When these men start their ministry in local parishes, they will bring so many different experiences, insights and talents to their work. As I look at these new candidates, I am reminded that Jesus chose a wildly diverse group of men to be his 12 Apostles. The Twelve came from such different backgrounds that they would never have gotten together as a group unless Jesus had called them together.
Perhaps that is the only way to explain how our new seminarians have come together in our Diocese. While they all come from very different backgrounds, there is one important similarity which binds them all together: they have come to believe that Jesus has called them to give their lives to the service of his people. What do these men have in common? They love Jesus Christ.
At a recent gathering of our seminarian community, it became clear to me that there are some other similarities which our new seminarians share. While most American Catholics are familiar with the fact that there has been a decrease in the number of seminarians over the past decades, it is also true that most of us are not aware of the positive traits that are shared by the young men who are beginning seminary studies today.
Our eight new seminarians spoke about two experiences which they hold in common. The first is this: they all achieved success (as our culture defines it), but they still felt like "something was missing." All of them went to college. All of them achieved. They obtained professional success after graduation. They earned more money than they had expected, and they were "upwardly mobile." They dated and fell in love. Some even owned their own homes. But in the midst of their success, in their quiet times of prayer, they knew that this was not enough. They were on the road to the American Dream, but they had a nagging feeling that they were supposed to follow another dream. They were surrounded by the lure of material success, but they listened to their hearts, and their hearts told them that true happiness, and true contentment, comes from God. At some point in their lives, someone had taught them that money cannot buy happiness. At some point in their religious training, someone had reminded them that real freedom comes when we listen to God and do what He asks. Someone had taught them that the love of Christ is worth more than anything else, and they have taken a concrete step to follow Christ in a radical way.
The other experience which they all share is this: other people encouraged them to consider a vocation to priesthood. Most of these men did not grow up wanting to be priests. They dreamed of being teachers, business executives, artists. They dreamed of homes, families, careers. At the same time, there were people around them who occasionally reminded them that their gifts and talents might be well used by the Lord in a life of ministry. At times, our new seminarians didn't listen to those people who told them these things. Sometimes they dismissed such comments. Often they just listened politely. But, over time, God used members of the Christian Community to plant certain seeds in the hearts and minds of these young men. When the time was right, those seeds began to grown, and these young men started to listen more attentively when their family and friends would ask, "Have you ever thought about being a priest?"
I have served our Diocese as Vicar for Vocations for the past three years. In my travels around this vast Diocese of ours, parents and parishioners often come up to me and say, "What can I do to encourage church vocations?" I think that the experience of our new seminarians gives us some clues about what each of us must do as we help to raise up the next generation of church ministers:
  1. Teach your children, grandchildren, and the youth of your parish to love Jesus. If they learn to love Jesus, they will want to listen to him. And if they love him and listen to him, they will do what he asks.
  2. Encourage the young people around you to remember that real success cannot be defined by a pay check or a new car. Those of us who have been through some of the ups and downs of life know that real happiness is found in loving other people and caring for them as best we can.
  3. Encourage one another to listen to God when making decisions about the future. In your own life, be sure to ask God into each major decision you make. Encourage young people around you to be open to all the possibilities God might have in store for them, including church vocations. You never know how your words might effect someone!
Finally, I would ask you to pray. Pray for those who are currently studying at seminaries and schools of theology. Pray for those who already serve the church as priests, religious, and lay ministers. And pray that God will continue to speak clearly to the hearts of our youth, calling many of them to the rich and rewarding experience of spending their lives in the service of the Gospel.
(If you would like to make a commitment to pray regularly for vocations, please contact the Vocations Office to learn more about our "Vocations Prayer Partner" program, in which you can join hundreds of people from around the diocese who pray regularly for an increase of vocations. For more information, contact: Rev. Michael Renninger, 811 Cathedral Place, Richmond VA 23220. Phone 804-359-5661).