This Sunday has been designated a world day of prayer for vocations, and in our country as well as many other countries in the western world the topic of ‘vocations to the priesthood’ has been in focus for some decades. The proposed and supposed natural answer to the perceived shortage of priests is, and has been for some time, that the Church should ordain married men! Problem solved! Well, that rationale raises a few problems, marital hurdles, and the problem that immediately springs to mind is that if the spouse of the male priestly prospect objects, the process of formation doesn’t even begin. It is a traffic light set at red! The story I am about to relate will be known to some of you, but it’s worth the retelling because it’s true.
Thirty years ago on my 50th Birthday, my wife and some of our family attended the parish garden fete at St Nicholas of Tolentino in Bristol. One of the birthday cards I received that day, one that wouldn’t have embarrassed one’s grandmother, had pinned to it a metal badge which I was obliged/coerced to wear to the fete. It had a simple message namely the number 50 … so large that it could be seen yards away. It was attention catching and was the source of much fun and laughter. That is until the parish priest caught sight of it.
He came towards us and started to chat, pretending that he hadn’t noticed the birthday badge, and then with the subtlety of an Irish saint asked: ‘How old are you Louis?’ …. ‘I’m 50 father!’ I said, and his quick-fire response was …. ‘Aaaaaaahhh! Just the right age to become a Deacon!’ What he hadn’t bargained for was the equally quick fire response of my wife who eyeballed him and said ‘If I wanted to marry a priest I’d have married a b….y Anglican!’ The subject was never mentioned again, not that it had ever been a topic of conversation between us. My wife was right because the marriage comes first. By the way, I had never considered the diaconate nor the ministerial priesthood.
What I have become aware of over the years is the number of people who have considered a religious vocation, men and women from all walks of life, and what stands out is their courage to take a risk. The vocation of marriage requires the courage to take a risk, a life-long risk, as does the religious vocation. Both require discernment! Sometimes the discernment is spontaneous such as ‘love at first sight’ which I know to be true; I believe in love at first sight. On other occasions one simply leaves it in the hands of God.
Every parish community has been gifted or associated with vocations to the priesthood or religious life. Robert Verrill was the first to opt for the religious life since I joined the parish. He worked for Thales in Templecombe, and besides being successful in industry was also a wonderful musician. He joined the Order of Friars Preachers, the Dominicans, and was ordained about 10 years ago. Deacon Paul White, who with his wife moved to North Somerset eighteen months ago was ordained to the Permanent Diaconate on July 30th 2011. Five years after that, David Savoury was ordained to the priesthood 23rd July 2016, and is serving in St Georges Taunton. Alexander Balzanella, who although not being a parishioner, but is associated with the parish, and whose parents live in the parish, was ordained for the Westminster Diocese on 19th September last Year.
It doesn’t stop there, because there are parishioners who are taking catechetical courses within and without the diocese who will bring their gifts into the vineyard of the Lord. Will the Lord bless us with more vocations to the Permanent Diaconate? I’m sure he will. Our parish families are the seed-bed for future vocations. I encourage parents to pray that their children will consider the beauty of the religious life, and with that in mind I conclude with ‘A Parent’s Prayer’.
Loving God, You have given us the privilege
as well as the responsibility of parenthood.
Guide us as we invite our children
to hear your call to service in the Church.
May they respond with deep faith
and generosity to the needs of others.
Help us to be a source of encouragement
by our own desire to be committed people
who serve with love and enthusiasm.
There are copies of prayers for vocations in the narthex. Please take them home with you.