A time of joy and challenge

Christmas in our diocese was especially joyful this year. On Epiphany, we ordained Matthew Valles to the Order of Deacon. With God’s grace guiding the journey, we hope to ordain Matthew to priesthood during the summer. Likewise, we look forward to celebrating another diaconate ordination in the Easter season as we ordain three new deacons on May 25 at the cathedral: Erin Donlon, Hoa Nguyen, and Thanh Pham.

The richness of the harvest of vocations this year in our diocese is a cause for joy. The men being ordained to the diaconate in May look forward to the grace of priestly ordination in the spring of 2025. We are grateful to God for these vocations. We pray that the Lord will bless these men with zeal for their ministry and their service to the people of our diocese.

In our joy, however, we do not want to forget that we are still in a time of vocation challenge. Our last ordination to the priesthood took place in August 2020. In this time of eucharistic renewal throughout our country we are working to deepen our appreciation for the gift that is the Eucharist.  As Church, we are centered on the Eucharist, Christ’s very presence with us under the form of bread and wine gathers us as community, strengthens us in grace, and sends us forth to bring God’s love into our world through living justly and serving one another. Without Eucharist, we would be challenged to be Church. Without priesthood, we do not have the Eucharist. We are grateful for the help we receive from our brother international priests, but we need to encourage vocations to priesthood among our men in Maine, young and not-so-young. We have, in fact, been blessed by many delayed vocations to priesthood in our diocese.

How, you might ask, are we to change the tide? How are we able to help in encouraging vocations to priesthood? Certainly, we should continue to encourage those who are eligible to be priests, particularly the young men in our diocese, to consider the possibility that Jesus is calling them to this important service. I ask them to prayerfully consider God’s will for them. I ask them to reflect deeply on what God asks of them.

To them I say, if prayer moves your heart, listen to that. What is your experience of God’s love in your life? Does the conviction of God’s care for you bring you joy? Does it bring a deeper meaning to your life?  When we find something that is good, we naturally want to share it. What, then, is God calling you to? Is he asking you to deepen that relationship and serve His people as a priest? How do we know that? Do you have a trusted spiritual director, a priest whom you can talk to about what you are experiencing in prayer? It is in such discernment that a vocation can be discovered.

But there is also an answer to our question of what we can do as Church to encourage vocations to priesthood in another vocation, that of Christian marriage. It is a call from God to live my love for my husband or wife in the same way that God loves us. The love of marriage calls the beloved to will the good of the other, even above one’s own good. The mutuality of that decision to love fully is the grounding of the beauty and meaning of marriage. That love of husband and wife, at the heart of Christian marriage, is the place where family is born. Children make a couple a family.

When I think back on my own vocation story, I cannot tell it without reference to my parents and my brothers and our family’s moments of prayer, conversation, and worship. I can still remember my first experience of Mass as a youngster. Conversations I had heard at table about priests and Mass and church began to come into focus, and I felt in that moment the beginnings of a call that would grow as I did and ultimately bring me to the seminary and formation for a priesthood which has been a rich and grace-filled life for me for the last 51 years.

Parents, I share with you a simple truth. We know what we learn from experience. If children do not have a weekly experience meeting Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, how will they know the great gift we believe is given to us in this sacrament, the very presence of Jesus Himself? I ask you to think about how you are helping your children to come to know the love of God. If it does not include bringing them to Mass, give consideration to fulfilling the duty you accepted when they were baptized “to train them in the practice of the faith.” Sunday Eucharist or Mass is central to practicing faith.

I ask you to make the necessary decisions so that your family can be at Mass every Sunday. That may mean sacrificing other activities. Is not the relationship with God worth it both for you and your children? Will it not also give them an opportunity to hear God’s call to them to a vocation in the Church, if that is God’s will?

I will end by promising a prayer for all of us, that we may know God’s love for us and seek to share it.

God bless,

Bishop Robert P. Deeley, JCD