| By The Most Reverend Steven J. Raica

‘I will go, Lord, if You need me …’

My dear sisters and brothers, as I travel around the diocese, it is not uncommon for me to hear from parishioners their ardent hopes and desires expressed in simple form. “We need priests and religious.” “If we only had more priests!” “Can’t we get more priests from somewhere else?” “We need priests who can minister on campuses!” “How is the shortage of priests affecting us?” “Can we find more sisters and brothers?” You get the picture!  There is no central mail-order house, or department in Amazon or Walmart, from which we can send in an order for more priests or religious.

Certainly, I am — indeed we all are — very grateful for the many dioceses and religious communities who have an abundance of priests and religious with whom we have ongoing friendships and relationships and who generously share their priests and religious for ministry across our beloved diocese. However, these are not permanent solutions to the vocation challenges we face going forward.

Our focus must be centered upon the young people of today who must hear the voice of God speaking directly in their hearts. In one more contemporary song, we sing: “Here I am, Lord! Is it I, Lord? I have heard You calling in the night.” The call for priestly and religious service in the Church is as varied as there are individuals. Each brings particular strengths to highlight the vocational needs we currently have. Each is differently blessed with skills and talents that complement the greater needs we have around our diocesan community.  Each must hear the unique voice of God speaking to them personally. Each must follow Him in a new way, embarking on a vocational path whose horizon and goal we cannot see.

Like you, I am amazed at the number of young people who are coming forward, expressing their desire to enter priestly formation. They are hearing the unique call of God in their hearts, and they want to see if they can verify the call through their prayer and formational experience. Our growing number of seminarians is significantly up with respect to previous years thanks to your prayers and vocational outreach. The increase is truly a unique blessing. Currently, we have 18 seminarians in formation, and next year, we are on track to have over 20 in formation. While they make their way through the formation process, I ask you to join me in prayer that each one may hear the voice of God speaking in their hearts so they can say: “I will go, Lord, if You need me…”

This current issue of One Voice is highlighting a sample of amazing vocation stories throughout our diocese. Each is on a unique path. Each has a dynamically powerful story describing how they sorted out their hopes and desires. Each one has heard God’s voice — “Is it I, Lord”— and, after much prayer and the corresponding call of the bishop or superior, arrived at the conclusion: “I will go, Lord … Do with me as You will … Your will be done!”

Vocations come from those who hear God’s call. If you see someone who would make a good priest or religious, please say something to them such as: “Have you ever considered the priesthood or religious life? I’m praying that you hear God’s call!” Those words could be one of the confirming signs candidates must hear to verify their vocational path. For those already on the path of formation, saying “thank you” or “I’m praying for you” means a great deal. May God bless those who have so faithfully and generously served in our diocese after hearing God’s call as priests, deacons, religious sisters, priests, and brothers in consecrated life. May many more hear and respond generously to the Lord’s invitation: “Follow Me!” May God bless you all!

The Most Reverend Steven J. Raica is the Fifth Bishop of Birmingham in Alabama.

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