Vocations: Casting our nets wider
By Fr. Mark McCormick
It is great to be able to finally say Father Joshua Lee! Fr. Joshua was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ for the Diocese of Rapid City on the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, June 24. His parents are Lucky and Irene Lee and his home parish is St. Therese of the Little Flower in Rapid City.
His mother Irene said to me recently that it has been a long journey to the priesthood, not only for Fr. Joshua, but for them as well. This is true. Seminary formation is a long journey, but for those who desire to give their whole hearts and lives to Christ, it becomes the first steps in the journey of a lifetime, filled with amazing encounters and adventures. St. John Paul II, at World Youth Day in Santiago de Compostela said: “Discovering Christ, always again and always more fully, is the most wonderful adventure of our life.”
St. John Paul II enjoyed high adrenaline activities such as downhill skiing. He was known as the “Daredevil of the Tatras,” a name he earned for his skills in taking on the slopes of Poland’s Tatra Mountains where he spent two weeks each winter. However, he often referred to the priesthood as his greatest adventure. He addressed the young people in Italy in 1997: “With the passing of time, the most important and beautiful thing for me is that I have been a priest for more than 50 years, because every day I can celebrate Holy Mass!” St. John Paul understood what a great privilege it is to celebrate the Mass and what a tremendous gift it is for priests and laity alike because for those whose hearts are open to it, the Mass becomes the source that leads us to the summit of life in Christ. The Mass leads us to and strengthens us for all other adventures of this life.
On the morning of June 25, Fr. Joshua celebrated his first Mass and the greatest adventure of his life began. His life prior to that, the six years of seminary formation, were filled with many encounters, new discoveries, and insights into his life now, after his definitive “Yes, I want to become an alter Christus — another Christ for God’s people” will have in it an even greater fullness — full of more encounters, discoveries, and insights. I am grateful for Father Joshua’s, “Yes!”
Fr. Joshua is one of 419 men who will be ordained to the priesthood in the United States this year. Those 419 men who are ready for the greatest of adventures; offering the sacrifice of Jesus in the Eucharist, preaching the kerygma (the good news of Jesus), forgiving sins and reconciling people back to Christ and to his church, preparing the hearts of God’s people to encounter Christ in the sacraments and to become a spiritual father to God’s people.
Does this sound like an adventure to you? Is it something that you would desire for your children and grandchildren? Clearly, not everyone does. In a 2022 CARA survey, half of the candidates for ordination (48%) indicated that they were discouraged from considering the priesthood by one or more persons. One in four (26%) were discouraged from considering the priesthood by a friend or classmate. One in five (21%) were discouraged by family members, their mothers (16%), or their fathers (15%).
I think one of the reasons family members, friends and coworkers discourage men from considering the priesthood is that they think that we will be alone and unhappy as priests, which simply is not true. Contrary to popular media portrayals, Msgr. Stephen Rossetti finds that priests, as a group, are very happy men; they like the priesthood and are committed to it. In fact, 92% say they are happy in their ministry, among the highest rate of satisfaction of any profession in the United States. (Why Priests are Happy: A Study of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests by Stephen J. Rossetti) Sure, the priesthood is hard, challenging, and difficult at times, but when priests continue to say yes and give their hearts and lives to Christ, he provides and provides, abundantly for them.
The CARA study shows that there are people who know the truth — that the life of a priest is a joyful one — because 90% of candidates reported being encouraged to consider the priesthood by someone in their lives. Seven in ten ordinands were encouraged by a parish priest (66%). Half were encouraged by a friend (48%). Two in five were encouraged by a parishioner (44%), by their mother (36%), and their father (28%).
While those encouraging outnumber those discouraging, just imagine the vocation boom in our diocese if we as priests, moms and dads, family members, friends, and parishioners, would cast our nets wider by inviting more men to consider and discern the priesthood. While invitation plays a critical role in encouraging men to consider the priesthood, what else was essential in these 419 men’s lives: abundant opportunities in their parishes and homes for prayer! Seven in 10 ordinands participated in Eucharistic adoration (74%), and prayed the rosary (72%), on a regular basis before entering the seminary. Half attended prayer groups and Bible studies (46%).
We can rejoice that this year we have three new men who have entered formation for our diocese. This brings our total to 12 men discerning the priesthood for the Diocese of Rapid City. Thank you, Jesus for these men’s courageous yeses to discerning this call! As we work together on the diocesan strategic planning the reality is that we need more men to say “yes” to Jesus’ invitation. Let us together cast our nets wider by lending our own voice to Christ who is calling young men in our parishes to his mission as priests. You and I can do this by inviting men in our homes and parishes to think about the amazing life that is the Catholic priesthood.