Fr. Chris Lemieux addesses the Ordinandi Dinner in Toronto earlier this month when 13 men about to enter the priesthood were introduced. Emanuel Pires

It’s up to each of us to plant vocation seed

By  Fr. Chris Lemieux, Catholic Register Special
  • March 19, 2020

Eight years ago, just weeks before I was ordained to the priesthood, I delivered a speech at the annual Ordinandi Dinner in Toronto that left me a marked man.

“You’re the priest who used to be a bus driver!” exclaimed people who still recognized me long after I shared my personal vocation story that night.

Thank goodness I’m remembered for my clerical collar and not for my days behind the wheel of a Mississauga bus. But when I’m singled out like this, I’m reminded of the close connection between parishioners and their priests, and the important role parishioners play in vocations.

As the Vocation Director for the Archdiocese of Toronto since 2014, I’ve gained some insight from six years of experience. I believe the wisdom I’ve gained is worth sharing with everyone, not just our bishops and my fellow priests. I was appointed to this work by Cardinal Thomas Collins, but when it comes to vocations, the work of the laity is just as important — and in some ways more important — than my work.

We are all vocation directors. Our role, first and foremost, is to seek for the Lord quality over quantity. It would be nice to have a couple hundred seminarians, like years ago, but that’s not our reality. Yet I don’t believe the Church is experiencing a crisis of vocations. When it comes to priests, the Church is not desperate for more; it is seeking the best.

The Church seeks men with a servant’s heart, men who love God and connecting with God through prayer and service, men who love people and love life, men who are positive, energetic and who want to do great things, men who see the good in the Church and the world and are determined to make both better. We all know men like that.  

Our second role is to pray. Cardinal Collins often reminds us to pray when he speaks on vocations. “Pray to the Lord of the harvest, that He may send labourers into the harvest.” The Scriptures are full of vocation stories, every one of them founded in prayer. Our Lady is remembered for immediately answering the Lord’s call but could only do that in communion with God through prayer. We are all called to pray. Prayer works!

Third, we should not sit back and wait for someone else to plant the vocation seed in a person we believe would make a good priest or a good religious sister. It’s up to each of us to plant it. And then water that seed with the reasons why you think that person would make a good priest or good religious sister. None of us should undervalue our role as a disciple of Christ to call other disciples. 

Nearly 20 years later I remember all the people who planted the seed in me: “Chris, you ever thought about becoming a priest” and “this is why I think you should be a priest.” 

In time, an aspiring priest or religious sister will need the guidance of their pastor and then a vocation director. But that support doesn’t replace the essential role we all play in encouraging good and healthy vocations. The more of us who join to offer encouragement, the more likely it is that those whom the Lord calls will find the strength and courage to take that leap. 

Fostering a healthy increase in vocations is up to us all. Vocations come from the pews, the same pews once occupied by today’s clergy and religious. They don’t come from somewhere else.  

Hundreds of faithful men and women, dedicated Catholics and even struggling ones, played a very important part in my formation. If we are good priests, it’s due to the people in the pews who shared their faith with us, who encouraged us, who prayed for us. We cherish priesthood because it’s a gift from God — but also because it’s important to the people we serve. 

The call to further vocations needs to be heard by all of us. Think of someone you know who’d make a good priest or good religious sister. Spend some time in contemplation and prayer, and then invite them to consider the possibility. Tell them why they would be a good priest or religious, and speak to your pastor so they too are aware of who and what you see.

If we all invited even three or four people in our lifetime to consider the possibility, imagine where the Church we love and give our life to could be.

(Fr. Lemieux is Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Toronto)

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