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Seek the Lord: He is risen! Alleluia!

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In the beautiful words of the Exultet, jubilantly sung at the Easter Vigil:

“This is the night when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.”

Easter, the feast of feasts, celebrates Christ’s saving victory over sin and death. This is too important to be confined to a single day that is much anticipated and quickly forgotten. The Church calendar therefore gives Easter an entire joyful season of seven weeks – one week longer than Lent. After the fast comes the feast! At the Vigil, Easter is just beginning.

Christ’s life, death, and resurrection were all part of “God’s secret plan” (cf. Ephesians 3:3-11) to redeem fallen humanity. That plan is still at work. Moreover, God also has a specific plan for every individual.

As Pope Benedict XVI preached at the Mass inaugurating his pontificate in 2005, “Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” And each of us has a definite purpose. We are at our happiest when we fulfill that purpose (Jn 15:11), even though it may not be easy. That is why building a culture of vocations is such a priority for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

In the vocation prayer that I have asked all parishes to pray at Mass each week, we ask God for “the grace to know the path You have planned for us in this life and to respond with a generous ‘Yes.’” The prayer specifically mentions the priesthood, the permanent diaconate, the consecrated religious life, the chaste single life, and “faithful husbands and wives, who are sign of Christ’s love for His Church.” All those paths truly are vocations.

Later this month, however, the Church turns her attention particularly to the vocations of ordained ministry, consecrated life, and missionary life. Good Shepherd Sunday, April 22, is World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The purpose of this day is to publicly fulfill the Lord’s instruction to, “ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:38; Lk 10:2).

In this Archdiocese, our weekly prayer for vocations has already borne fruit beyond what some might have thought was a realistic hope some time ago. The number of seminarians at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary of the West has more than doubled over the past seven years, causing us to break ground last fall on the first expansion of the seminary building since 1962. We expect this blessing to continue, with the numbers doubling again in the next seven years.

Yet, the need to pray for religious vocations remains. The number of new priests ordained each year still does not match or exceed the number lost to death and retirement, and will not for some time. Moreover, our purpose in begging the harvest master has never been simply to fill the seminary and our pulpits. The purpose is to help those called by God to religious vocations to hear and answer that call.

“In the diversity and the uniqueness of each and every vocation, personal and ecclesial,” Pope Francis wrote in a message for World Day of Prayer for Vocations, “there is a need to listen, discern and live this word that calls to us from on high and, while enabling us to develop our talents, makes us instruments of salvation in the world and guides us to full happiness.”

The Bible is full of stories about men and women who did that.

“The Lord’s call – let it be said at the outset – is not as clear-cut as any of those things we can hear, see or touch in our daily experience,” Pope Francis noted. “God comes silently and discreetly, without imposing on our freedom. Thus it can happen that his voice is drowned out by the many worries and concerns that fill our minds and hearts.”

If you know someone whom you believe may have a religious vocation, be sure to encourage him or her to listen to that “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) that is the call of God. Encourage him or her to contact me or our Vocations Director, Father Dan Schmitmeyer. And please join me in praying for religious vocations particularly on Good Shepherd Sunday.

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