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.
A few years ago at our annual Priest Jubilee Day, Bishop Edward Rice, then Auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis, was asked to offer some reflections on the priesthood.He made a point that really stuck in my mind. He told all of us that we were all vocation directors. What he was saying is that all of the priests share in the responsibility for promoting vocations. In my time as the diocesan vocation director, I am more convinced than ever that these words are true. The vast majority of the men who approach me about a vocation have already been working with a priest that they know and trust. It is only after that important work of accompaniment and encouragement that a young man is sent in my direction.
"How many seminarians do we have this year?" As I travel around the diocese, this is one of the most common questions that I receive from both the clergy and members of the laity. People are understandably impressed when I mention that we have more than doubled our numbers over the past five years, going from 11 seminarians to our current number of 23.
"I think you want to become a priest." This was the content of an instant message that my twin sister sent to me almost 10 years ago before I had ever seriously considered the possibility of entering the seminary. Over the next few months, several of my co-workers would joke with me, telling me that I was going to become a priest. My response to these suggestions was always one of casual dismissal. Then one day, a woman whom I had never met turned around after Mass one morning and asked me: "Have you ever thought about the priesthood?" At that point, I knew the idea of the priesthood was no joke, but something that I needed to take seriously.