Dear Sisters and Brothers

After a long hard winter it has been lovely to enjoy both some spring weather, and the first green flush of the leaves on the trees which for so long have seemed barren and lifeless. New growth encourages new hope. I think this is true of every sphere of life, not just the horticultural variety. Activity which does not lead to growth, development and increase can be frustrating and discouraging. The same could be said of our life in the Church. Growth, outreach and mission should be very evident in all activities of the local church, otherwise it could appear like the winter trees: barren and lifeless. One of the ways we can experience and measure this dynamism is in relation to the growth of vocations in their various forms. In his recent message for Vocation Sunday, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI reminded us: “The ability to foster vocations is a hallmark of the vitality of a local Church.”

The theme of the Pope’s letter concerns how we might foster or ‘propose vocations’ in the local Church. While addressing the subject of vocation in general, he also turns his thoughts to vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. He reiterates the age-old gospel imperative constantly brought to our minds throughout the different ages of the Church, namely that “Vocations to the ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life are first and foremost the fruit of constant contact with the living God and insistent prayer lifted up to the ‘Lord of the harvest’, whether in parish communities, in Christian families or in groups specifically devoted to prayer for vocations.”

So what are some of the other things we need to do? First of all it is important for us to help children and young people at every level – family, parish, parish groups and associations – to grow into a genuine friendship and affection with the Lord. We do this in so many ways already in our schools and through the activities of the diocesan Youth Service. In some parishes there are Youth Groups for the young people who come to Mass and as well as being a source of leisure and personal growth, they also offer a clear invitation to prayer and faith formation.

Secondly, we should have confidence that when “proposing vocations” to our young people we are simply encouraging them to listen out for the Lord’s call. And it is for this reason that they will discover the “deepest truth about themselves” for “in being open to the love of God… we discover true joy and the fulfilment of our aspirations”. It is important for all of us to take on board very seriously, that responding to the Lord’s call will only bring joy and peace of mind.

This year Vocation Sunday comes quickly in the wake of the beatification of [Blessed] John Paul II. What an example of priestly life he offered to our Church! He gave hope and encouragement to so many priests and continues to inspire vocations. What was at the heart of this great sense of hope? So frequently he told us not to be afraid but to remember that only Jesus Christ answers the longings of every human heart. Following the will of Christ in this way, we also discover the true meaning of our own life. Blessed John Paul II taught very insistently the simple truth of our faith: that every vocation is to a life in Christ.

At the end of the World Youth Day in 2000 he offered very practical and simple advice to young people discerning their vocations: “Stay close to Christ in the Holy Eucharist. You yourselves must be fervent witnesses to Christ’s presence on the altar. Let the Eucharist mould your life and the life of the families you will form. Let it guide all life’s choices…” Nor did he ever hesitate to ‘propose vocations’:  “If any of you, dear young men and women, hear the Lord’s inner call to give yourselves completely to him in order to love him ‘with an undivided heart’, do not be held back by doubts or fears. Say ‘yes’ with courage and without reserve, trusting him who is faithful to his promises.”

And whose responsibility is it to do all this? Well, as your bishop I know that I should “foster priestly and religious vocations as much as possible, and should take a special interest in missionary vocations” while at the same time having “the concern of the universal Church for an equitable distribution of priests in the world.” But the job of fostering vocations belongs to the whole Christian community – priests, families, catechists and leaders of parish groups. And we should not hesitate, waiting for the right moment, for “every moment in the life of the Church… can be a precious opportunity for awakening in the People of God, and in particular in children and young people, a sense of belonging to the Church and of responsibility for answering the call to priesthood and to religious life by a free and informed decision.”

Lord our God, You are the help of all who call on You. To every one of us You issue an invitation to follow you in a specific way of life. Through the working of Your Holy Spirit, help us to know what You ask of us and give us the grace to do it. Train our tongues to speak Your word as you open our ears to hear Your will. (Mark Boyer, Return to the Lord, Alba House New York, 1991)

Terence Patrick, Bishop of Middlesbrough

Some vocation facts for your consideration

We have 4 students discerning their vocation in seminary at the moment; two are in the foundational or propaedeutic year; one in 2nd year, one in 4th year the normal course is of 7 year’s duration.
The cost of training a student to the priesthood can be as much as £22,000 each year.