I was raised in a very small town, roughly 1,000 people all together, even including the surrounding countryside. To say everyone knew everyone would be an understatement! Despite the small size, and the fact that only 50% of the town is Catholic (Lutherans and Methodists make up the rest), my home parish has sent five sons to the seminary in the last 20 years. Two of us have been ordained, two were in the seminary and left, one is currently in the college seminary.
A remarkable feat, which continues to stun me, even seven years after my own ordination.
Whenever I mention this fact, people always wonder how this happened. ‘What’s the secret?’ There is no secret, but just a vibrant prayer life within the parish and it is based in two areas. First, my hometown has been blessed with excellent priests, who each brought his own gift to the parish. I vaguely remember Fr. Bastian, from whom I received my First Holy Communion. Fr. O’Connor brought about some changes introduced at the Second Vatican Council, taught me how to serve in the fifth grade, and was a constant, steady presence in the parish. Fr. Trick brought a vitality and joy to the parish, a quick wit and an ability to laugh with the best of them. Fr. Sloneker turned the focus of the parish to youth and the energy they bring to the parish. Fr. Lee has just recently joined up and has the enthusiasm of the newly ordained.
But this is only part of the success. Even though my home parish is so small, there is a dedicated army of ‘adorers’ who spend at least an hour a week in front of Our Eucharistic Lord, present in the monstrance. From the close of the last Mass on Sunday at noon through Friday evening, at least one person (and usually two) is scheduled to spend an hour to watch and pray with Our Lord.
In no mere coincidence, this dedication to prayer started roughly as this little vocation wave started to take shape. Because it is such a small community, everyone feels an obligation to keep Our Lord company: from the elderly who cover some of the early morning hours while everyone else is home asleep or the midday hours as others work, to students from school who walk over after school to spend an hour with He who created them. Moms and dads of young families take the late evening shift, after the kids have been tucked safely away. Others fill in as they can and are able. From the time this started when I was in high school to today, I know not to call my mother on Tuesday evenings, for she has to keep her hour at Church.
As we continue our journey through Lent, we can use the discipline fostered in our prayer life to continue on into the future, instead of sliding back into old habits. Especially in periods of Adoration, we see Christ face to face, as it were, and encounter Him at a deeper level. During these times, are hearts are opened to experience the great love of Christ who came that we might have life through Him.
In these moments, the initial stirrings of a vocation are heard, the longing of the heart is kindled, and the soul is strengthened to follow where ever God calls.
For this, and so much more, whenever someone asks what they can do to support vocations, I urge them first and foremost to prayer before Our Lord during Adoration. It is a prayer time unlike any other.