January 11, 2013
A couple of months back I wondered if being a sede vacante (vacant seat) diocese would affect the number of men who seek to discern the priesthood. This is because from a theological point of view the bishop is the point of unity for a diocese and plays a central role in the work of vocations. Moreover, it is a well known fact that a bishop’s public image can either positively or negatively influence a man’s desire to contemplate making a promise of obedience and respect. After all, when a transitional deacon places his hands in the bishop’s hands, promising obedience and respect to him and his successors, it comes after a long process of prayer and discernment.
So as our diocese walks the route of transition, I wondered what Bishop Vann’s move to Orange would mean for the future of the priesthood here. As his priest-secretary for two years, I was able to see how Bishop Vann really believed that the priests were the primary collaborators of the bishop. He depended on us to assist in his ministry to sanctify, govern, and teach. For the most part, we presbyters had access to him and could call on him whenever we needed. Bishop Vann was just a cell phone call or a text away.
These questions of mine soon found answers over the last three months. The answer is that God’s work continues on and his grace infuses the work of his faithful especially in a time of transition. Really, there was nothing for me to worry about. Since random email inquiries and phone calls have been steadily coming in, I can say that hearts are being moved, and the lay faithful do their part to support and complement the ministry of the priest by supporting vocations. Retreats continue, conversions take place, Mass is celebrated, confessions are heard, and people return to God on a daily basis. I don’t always see how the mysterious work takes place, but in moments of grace it is quite clear that it does.
A funny little personal experience comes to mind when I think about the work of the Holy Spirit. In 2004, while still a seminarian in Rome, I was having a conversation with a seminarian from another diocese in the South. He told me how when he was applying to seminary in his diocese that as the summer before he was due to begin went forward, he hadn’t heard anything from the vocations director about where he would be going to seminary, and this was a source of consternation.
By late July, my friend related, he had no idea where his diocese would be sending him for seminary. So he went to his pastor to see if there was anything he could do to find out where he would be sent and when he would start. He knew that he was accepted to his diocese but little else. To his dismay, his pastor responded with an equal amount of confusion and recommended that he ask the bishop, who was due to make a parish visit within the next week or so.
When the bishop came to the parish and the seminarian said that he didn’t know where he would be sent for seminary, the bishop told him to talk to the vocations director. Since approaching the vocations director was the original point of confusion, stating that he had to ask the bishop first, the seminarian got discouraged but not enough to give up. He decided to take matters into his own hands and called the seminary to say that he was accepted by his diocese but was given no further instruction about what he needed to do. The seminary representative told him that they hadn’t heard anything about him attending seminary but not to worry and that he should talk to his vocations director.
Flustered and disappointed, the young man called the vocations director again one last time. When he told the vocations director that he talked to his pastor, the bishop and even called the seminary in the hopes of finding out at least something about what to expect, the vocations director responded, “Well, I suppose we should start that paperwork…”
My friend (now an ordained priest), having made it through all the rigamarole, looked back at this situation with humor. He looked at me and laughed, concluding that when it came to vocations, he knew that the Holy Spirit really did the work since obviously no one in his diocese did!
A couple of months back I wondered if being a sede vacante (vacant seat) diocese would affect the number of men who seek to discern the priesthood. This is because from a theological point of view the bishop is the point of unity for a diocese and plays a central role in the work of vocations.