My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
At the end of September, our diocese launched the “Be Not Afraid” campaign to address the many fears that we face as human beings, especially during these uncertain times. As people of faith, we have the words of Jesus, who repeats on multiple occasions in the Gospels: “Be not afraid.” One of the early videos released during this campaign was a set of testimonies from several of our seminarians, sharing the fears that they faced upon entering the seminary and how they have overcome those fears. Their words, spoken from the heart, are inspiring to hear and they show how when we choose to trust in the Lord’s plan for us; he will never abandon us, but will provide for what we need, especially in helping us to overcome our fears.
Having worked in the ministry of vocations for most of my time as a priest, I can say that one of the important roles that I have is in helping people address their fears with regard to their stepping out in faith to discern a vocation. While they are in formation, our men are confronted with other challenges that can cause fear, and I am blessed to journey with them to find the hope that the Lord gives in the midst of those uncertainties.
Apart from the fears that these men face in their discernment, there is also a fear that is faced by their families. Mothers and fathers want their children to be happy, and the thought of their following a path like the priesthood or religious life sometimes frightens them. Will my child be happy if they are not able to get married? Will they miss out on the joy of being able to have their own children? With the often-negative view of the church in our world: Will my child suffer criticism because of the path they have chosen? Those fears are real, and they can be crippling to parents.
In response to those fears, I invite parents to hear the same words their sons and daughters have been encouraged to hear — the words of Jesus: “Be not afraid!” Believe it or not, our Heavenly Father loves your children more than you ever can, and his desire to give them fulfillment surpasses your desires. Remember the words of Jesus: if you “know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.” (Mt 7:11) I do not know if my parents ever had fears about my becoming a priest, but I would hope that they would say now, after seeing me as a priest for nine years, that the Lord has kept his promise in bringing me fulfillment and happiness in the life that he has chosen for me.
As we observe National Vocations Awareness Week (Nov. 1-7), may we all hear those encouraging words to “Be not afraid.” To those discerning a vocation, wondering if the Lord can fulfill your desire for happiness: “Be not afraid!” If you are a parent, wondering if your child can be happy in a vocation to the priesthood or religious life: “Be not afraid!” The Lord knows what he is doing, and as he told his people through the prophet Jeremiah, so he says to us: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Father Brian Alford is vocations director for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and is rector at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield.