By Margaret M. Russell
Even though many people talk about “a vocations crisis,” Father James S. Mazzone, director of the Office for Vocations, says that phrase is not accurate.
“Headline! A vocations crisis has never happened, it is not happening now, and it will never happen,” says the priest who has been recruiting men for the Diocese of Worcester since 2004.
Father Mazzone has been involved in 11 priestly ordinations for 32 men in the Diocese and calls it “the greatest honor of my life.”
In order for there to be a true vocations crisis, Father Mazzone says, God would have to “wake up one morning and say to himself … ‘today, just as an experiment, … there will be no more priests…. I’m not going to call and put into the hearts of young men around the world, the desire – this calling to the priesthood. So, no more baptisms, sacraments of reconciliation, no Masses or Eucharist or confirmations, anointings of the sick, witnessing of marriages, or holy orders. Let’s just see what happens.’”
The vocations director posits, that a vocations crisis is not possible because it is against all of God’s attributes. “God loves us. God wants us to have channels of grace. God wants us to have the sacraments in our life. God wants us to have priests, always and forever,” he says.
“A vocations crisis” is not a good phrase to use because it implies that God has just stopped calling anyone to the priesthood.
“Impossible!”Father Mazzone says emphatically.
But here is a phrase that is true: “a discernment crisis.” That’s very different, he says.
He thinks that young men today have trouble hearing their call to the priesthood and he says everyone can help them overcome that deafness.
He said that vocations directors have lots of tools to reach these young men: social media, posters, websites, TV programs. But the greatest tools are the people the men come in contact with regularly: the parish priest, the teacher, the mother, father, grandparents, friends.
There are several ways people can help men hear the real call of God.
In today’s super-connected world, one needs some peace and quiet in order to hear God’s word coming through. In that quiet time, prayer happens. Often when God is trying to “deliver his message,” Father Mazzone says, that feeling of unworthiness creeps in. “The feeling that this ‘mail’ is being delivered to the wrong mailbox, it should be for … that guy down the street,” he says, makes men hesitate.
He tells people to encourage young men they know to quiet down their lives, to increase their prayer life and to deal with their “unworthiness.”
Vocations directors call this one-to-one invitation “tapping” – to tap a young man on the shoulder.
The three steps are:
Tell them, “I think you have a vocation to the priesthood.”
Assure them of your prayers and support.
Pass their name on to the pastor or a vocations director.
It is important to say these things out loud, he says.
“If the young man hears these words three times in one month, or within a short period of time, they are five times more likely to consider a vocation to the priesthood,” Father Mazzone says. “If they hear it from a vocations director, they are 10 times more likely to consider a vocation.”
And here is where all people in the diocese come in to the picture. Even though they may not personally know a candidate for the priesthood, their financial support of the Office of Vocations can help tap young men on the shoulder.
“We have the resources (to do this) because of you,” Father Mazzone told a gathering of Partners in Charity supporters at Assumption College several months ago. “We have retreats every month, spaghetti suppers every month, holy hours, books, DVDs, trips to seminaries, trips to shrines, thanks to all of you,” he said.
“Without your generosity and support, the Office for Priestly Vocations and the Holy Name of Jesus House of Studies just wouldn’t exist,” he said.
He explained that over the past 10 years, supporters of Partners in Charity have made it possible to put 32 men through about 160 years of college and seminary.
“That’s a big bill. Without your generosity, we could not have done this for these good men,” he said.
In the 2015 Partners in Charity campaign, about $750,000 was earmarked for priestly vocations: The Office for Vocations, the Holy Name of Jesus House of Studies, and Seminarian Education and Health Insurance.
It costs about $75,000 to operate the House of Studies; which covers the cost for a part-time cook, a part-time house cleaner, groceries, utilities, maintenance and insurance, Father Mazzone explained. The rest of the money is used to support the vocations office, and the seminarians’ educational costs of tuition, textbooks, and health insurance, international travel and monthly stipends.
Not only do the donations support home-grown, domestic seminarians, but they have supported “so many good priests that have come to us from other countries,’ he said.
“Many of them have touched your lives already,” he said noting that they come from Colombia, Brazil, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda and Poland and are already in our parishes.
“And a good number of them have made their way through the Holy Name of Jesus House of Studies,” Father Mazzone explained.
Currently there are 20 seminarians for the Diocese of Worcester, and the House of Studies is home for six of them. Three other men, in formation for the Diocese of Norwich, Conn., also live in the former rectory. Norwich pays their room and board and for their English as a Second Language program, Father Mazzone said.
The House of Studies gives international men a place to live while they study English before embarking on seminary studies here. It also houses men who attend college locally.
Father Mazzone said he has great admiration for these young men who leave everything familiar and comfortable and cozy. “They are so courageous. They are really heroes,” he said.
“Of course the ultimate goal of all these men is to be conformed to Christ, to be a holy person to serve our parishes,” he said.
To the Partners in Charity contributors he said, “You have made that possible. Without you, no vocations office. No vocations, no priests. As Bishop McManus often says, no priests, no Eucharist; no Eucharist, no Church.”