Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Renew My Church and vocations

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

In planning the Renew My Church process, we identified seven markers of parish vitality. One of them is the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and vowed life. Historically, vocation recruitment was left to the religious orders and the archdiocese. Yet studies show that the most effective vocation programs are parish-based and benefit from the active involvement of priests.

A number of years ago I served as chair for the Vocations Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. We commissioned research on the motivation of those who entered the seminary and discovered that nearly 80 percent of priests were recruited by another priest, yet just 30 percent of priests had ever asked someone to consider becoming a priest. As a result we began the Called By Name program, which was designed to encourage priests to become more involved in recruitment.

We also discovered that parish support was another key factor in sustaining a seminarian’s vocation, as well as creating the sense within a community that vocations are a priority.

For me, encouraging vocations is not just one priority among others. Next year, 23 priests will turn 70, becoming eligible for retirement. If you add those to the priests who are already 70 and still working as pastors or associates, that number increases to 59. If this group of nearly 60 priests decided to retire from active ministry all at once, some parishes would find themselves without priests.

So first let’s thank the priests who continue to serve after their 70th birthdays, and let’s extend that gratitude to those who are retired and still providing help in our parishes. The same must be said of our women and men religious who continue to serve the people of God after they could retire, and even after they enter retirement. We depend on the generosity of these men and women, and we should be very grateful for their service.

Then we need to start praying, both personally and communally, that the Master of the harvest send workers into the field. We also need to be thinking about the ways we can encourage vocations in our parishes. Our vocations office will be very involved in helping parishes in this regard.

I would also encourage parents to be open to this. I know from years of vocation work, both as a seminary rector and as a bishop, that there is often a reluctance on the part of some parents to respond favorably when a son or daughter raises the possibility of looking at a religious vocation. I would encourage those mothers and fathers to talk to parents of priests and seminarians, or even visit one of our seminaries to see firsthand what the environment is like, and how much joy a vocation can bring to a family.

Renew My Church will pursue other priorities, of course, but I consider vocations one of the most urgent and important. We need more priests, just as we need more religious, more talented and dedicated women and men, to serve us today — and our children and grandchildren tomorrow.

From the baptismal font, we are then dismissed and sent into the community through a ritual that seals our baptism. We call that sealing confirmation. A seal is a sign of authentication and identification. Look at your driver’s license. What authenticates it is the seal of the state that’s stamped on it.

Our authentic identity as disciples is as members of a community. Imparting a seal of authenticity and identity in confirmation is done by the bishop when he smears oil in the form of a cross on the forehead of disciples. In fact, this sealing originally was a ritual of blessing, dismissing the newly baptized and confirmed and allowing them to enter into the community for the celebration of the Eucharist.

Finally, within this community of shared life and love, we deepen our initiation into the church through the only repeatable sacrament of initiation, the Eucharist. We share in the bread we break and the cup poured out. We call this our Communion, for it in fact provides a graced opportunity to put aside living for ourselves, allowing us to be broken and poured out for one another. We need to do this again and again, practicing our membership in the church. In doing so, we are nourished, prepared and sustained to be sent into the world to bring others the light and hope of the Gospel. In this way we become a “field hospital in the world.”

Renew My Church is simply placing the reality of the sacraments of initiation front and center as we chart a path forward in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Its starting point involves reinvigorating our relationship with Christ, coming to a deeper understanding of our baptism by taking up in a fresh way the work of evangelization and forming disciples.

The ongoing formation of our discipleship, begun at baptism, continues as we take another look at the meaning of our confirmation. It means participating anew in the work of building vibrant faith and worshipping communities. Renew My Church aims to foster such communities through leadership development, which of course means a strong emphasis on vocations. The process will also bring support for parish and school vitality and stability.

It is from the eucharistic assembly that members of the community are sent out to bring hope and light to the world. Renew My Church seeks to accomplish this by building solidarity with those who suffer injustice, and by reaching out to all our people through robust pastoral and communications efforts.

Cliffs Notes have their shortcomings, of course. In the end, you really ought to read the novel (please tell my teachers). Likewise, this summary of Renew My Church, while helping us see the significance of the sacraments of initiation for the life of the church, has its limitations. The success of Renew My Church will depend on our participation in the process.

True discipleship means taking personal responsibility for doing our part to further Christ’s mission. We must work together to build up communities of faith in order to nourish, prepare and sustain all members to be Christ’s field hospital in the world.


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