There is an interesting form of biblical scholarship that focuses on the meaning of numbers known as numerology. One that we might be most familiar with is the number 40, which is a number that signifies trial, testing and waiting. The great flood was 40 days and 40 nights. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert before beginning his public ministry. And 40 days after the resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven.
There’s another biblical number that I have been reflecting on recently — the number eight. Before I explain why, here is what the Catholic Dictionary says about the significance of that number in the Bible: Eight is associated with joy and the resurrection. There are eight Beatitudes, and Christ rose from the grave on the eighth day after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, symbolized in the octagonal shape of many baptismal fonts.
I can confirm that eight is indeed associated with joy in a very particular way for us in our diocese. The reason for that is we are hoping to ordain eight men to the priesthood this coming May, the largest ordination class our diocese has seen in more than 50 years! Over the past year-and-a-half or so, there has been a lot of news in the church that has been less than joyful, to say the least. I believe the upcoming ordination of these eight men could not have come at a more opportune time to remind us in our diocese that the Lord is still very much present among us, doing great things.
This blessing is a tangible reminder to us as a diocese of the promise quoted at the bottom of our new seminarian poster from the Prophet Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer 29:11 RSV)
In biblical terms, the number eight also represents a new beginning. I have great hope that the blessing our diocese is about to receive in these eight new priests will mark a new beginning of prayer and support for vocations in our diocese. To be sure, we need to pray that many young men would have the courage to answer the call to the priesthood. But we also want to pray for many young women to have the courage to follow the Lord in a more radical way in consecrated religious life. We need to pray for our young people who are being called to marriage, that they might resist the cultural resistance to making a commitment for life. We also need to pray for families, that they be open to the gift of life, welcoming new members into the Body of Christ who will help to build up the Kingdom.
So as we celebrate National Vocations Awareness Week during the first week of November, may we all join in prayer, grateful to the Lord who has blessed our diocese with many wonderful vocations in the past and the present, and filled with joy and hope that he will bring about a new chapter in our diocese in which that culture of vocations will continue to grow.
Father Brian Alford is vocation director for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and pastor of St. Jude Parish in Rochester.