An increase in vocations requires an increase in faith
May 6, 2022
Archdiocese projections of a future with fewer priests has many parishes renewing efforts to boost priestly vocations through organized prayer events, special displays in church foyers and vocation talks.
Those efforts all help, but their value is increased when parishes start with a basic, proven plan that’s already bearing fruit in the Church, according to Father Scott Schilmoeller, who on July 1 will become the archdiocese’s vocation director.
That proven plan is the archdiocese’s pastoral vision: “One Church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, and living mercy.”
“I don’t think we have a vocation crisis,” said Father Schilmoeller, who currently serves as assistant vocations director. “I think we have a crisis of faith.
“And by crisis of faith I basically mean that many of our young people don’t know Jesus. They don’t know that he’s real and living. He wants a relationship with them, and this will fill them with the greatest joy that they could imagine.”
“We won’t get vocations unless people know Jesus, unless they are growing in the habits of a disciple, in community with other people,” said Father Schilmoeller, who also is associate pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk, St. Leonard Parish in Madison, St. Peter Parish in Stanton and St. Patrick Parish in Battle Creek.
“The archdiocese’s pastoral vision really encompasses those basics of the faith, that are not basic at all, but are the core of who we are as Catholics,” he said.
“As Catholics we encounter Jesus as a living person. Then we equip our people to be disciples so they can follow Jesus in the habits of prayer and regular sacramental life. We want people to live this one Church, which is the supportive community of other people. And we want people to live by giving away the good things that they’re receiving.”
“I would say that those things that our archdiocese is holding up for every parish to strive for, those are the roots of every vocation,” said Father Schilmoeller.
“It might sound simple. … But where those things are happening, we have vocations.”
A strong culture of prayer at a parish is important because it helps young people “to be completely open to whatever God wants for them,” said Father Andrew Roza, the current vocations director and associate pastor at the St. John Paul II Newman Center in Omaha.
“You have to know God before you’re willing to trust him enough to give your whole life,” he said. “That’s one of the fruits of prayer.” Receiving the sacraments and living a life directed toward God also are key, said Father Roza, whose next assignment will be associate pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Omaha.
Father Schilmoeller said he encourages individuals and parishes to introduce people of all ages to Jesus and “accompany them step by step to develop the habits of a disciple,” to help lead and guide them as they progress in faith.
“Once these things have been happening, then there’s space for the voice of Jesus to echo in their hearts,” he said. “Then they could recognize his voice leading them forward. But without knowing him or ever meeting him, and without having the discipline of prayer and a supportive community, it’s very difficult to hear his voice.”
Youth ministry is ground zero for vocations. It fosters conversions and discernment and produces fruit in a direct way, Father Roza said. “That tends to be where my attention is most closely aligned or fixed.”
More indirectly, efforts by parish vocations committees offer awareness and support, and create a positive culture for vocations, he said.
Some of the best parish youth programs provide small-group formation, retreats and other opportunities for conversion, all led by engaged adults who proactively mentor and guide, said Father Roza.
“I think you really need to have people who mentor them and show them the way,” he said. “You’re looking for adults who are close with God and who have trusted him in difficult situations in their own lives, who can then walk with a young person through their own areas of anxiety or concern or security, as well as affirm the joys they experience in God.
“Then you need peers, friends who are on the same path,” he said. “It’s really important to know you’re not alone. So it’s friendship, and it’s mentorship, and it’s divine intimacy. As those three puzzle pieces get better and better put together, you begin to see more holy vocations of all kinds: marriage, religious life, priesthood, you name it.”
HELPING AND GUIDING
The Church as a whole has been focusing on “accompaniment” in vocations and other areas of the faith, Father Schilmoeller said.
The Lord places people in the lives of young men and women to introduce them to Jesus “so they can meet him and know that he’s real,” he said. “And this encounter just changes the hearts of young people. An encounter with him, the living person of Jesus, is essential. Without that, we won’t get vocations unless people really know Jesus and have met him personally. … This comes about through fellow Christians accompanying our young people.”
At his parishes accompaniment can be found in youth groups, small faith groups and families living the Christian faith, Father Schilmoeller said.
“So from the highest level of our archdiocese, that’s what’s being trickled down into the parishes. We want this for every demographic, every age group, throughout our parishes,” he said.
“There’s these cultures of faith where people know Jesus, they have these stable habits of Christian living, and Jesus’ voice will inevitably be heard clearer by young men and women, and they will respond. That’s just the bare bones basis of vocations.”
The special vocation efforts organized by parishes and organizations are like icing on a cake, Father Roza and Father Schilmoeller said.
“When we layer that on top of the true evangelization that the Church is asking for, then it is effective,” Father Schilmoeller said. “But the difficulty is many times we try to do these vocation efforts in cultures where evangelization hasn’t taken root as deeply, and we’re not seeing the fruit the Lord is seeking.”
Prayer is always crucial, he said.
“I think it’s vital that the whole body of Christ, the whole Church, is active in holding up our priests, our religious sisters and those discerning vocations with our prayers,” Father Schilmoeller said. “Everyone has a part in this.”
He echoes a statement by Pope St. John Paul II: “Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.”
“How many people have inconveniences or sufferings in their lives?” Father Schilmoeller asked. “Jesus is inviting them to unite this to him on behalf of other people. … Their unique struggles and frustrations can be united to him for those who have fallen away from the Church or for those who are discerning priesthood.”
“Parents, youth ministers, teachers, coaches – the Lord can use many of those people,” he said. “That’s the boots-on-the-ground vocation work.”
“The support is the lay faithful who offer prayers, their Mass intentions, their own struggles and sacrifices and frustrations that just come with life and unite them to Jesus for the sake of his Church.”