Father Bate, a professor of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry at St. Augustine College of South Africa, participated in a teleconference on the topic of vocations to the priesthood organized by the Congregation for the Clergy.
Here is the text of the conference given by Father Bate.
God continually calls people in Christ to participate in the realization of his great plan for the salvation of the world (See Ephesians 1, 1 Corinthians 15). A special call is the vocation to priestly life and service. We usually hear God’s call in the example of those around us, who challenge and inspire us by the witness of their own lives. This is particularly true with priestly vocation where the example of a zealous and holy priest is the way that many young men are challenged to examine the choices for their own future.
Most find this example in their parish and so the witness of the parish priest is an essential site of God’s call to others to enter priestly life and ministry. This witness can be inspired by different kinds of priestly gifts and talents. Some parish priests excel in preparing and leading prayerful and dignified celebrations of the sacraments. Some manifest God’s presence in their special ministry to the sick and dying. Yet others have special gift of preaching as they mediate Gods’ word to the hearts of people. Some show a special commitment to the poor and suffering of the parish. There is no one recipe but what is common in all is the example of men who have met the Lord, who know it and who live their relationship with Jesus in service to the people they have been called to lead.
Inspired by such an example, young men (and sometimes older people) begin to contemplate the value and indeed the immeasurable necessity of the life of a Priest. And in this frame of mind they are more open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit who may be gently challenging them to come and see more about this life for themselves (See John 1:39). Understanding the meaning of such promptings requires discernment. Here too the parish priest can play an important role in helping others explore the possibilities of this lifestyle. This may include encouraging them to greater involvement in the parish. Spiritual direction and other forms of mentoring are also important. The parish priest is often the first to recognise the seeds of priestly vocation in a young man. This is because he has been along this road himself in articulating his own call before entering the seminary.
Priests, however, must be careful not to project their own views and desires onto others. Their role is not to control but rather to trust God by helping such men explore their own vocation, following wherever it may lead. This implies neither the imposition of ones own will nor the mere passive provision of a spiritual space. Rather it requires an active involvement through accompaniment and encouragement of those who feel the Lord may be calling them to priestly ministry.
This task of vocational guidance is not just a task for a few specialists or those who are ‘good with young people’. It is the responsibility of every parish priest. Each will do it in his own way using his own gifts and his own style. It must be true that almost all priests have inspired at least one person to follow in their footsteps. Sometimes we may have failed to nourish that inspiration. Like Peter we may think that we have had a poor catch. It is Jesus who shows us how to cast our nets to achieve a great haul.