Hope for the New Year: Living as the Body of CHrist

by Bishop Michael Duca

At the beginning of every New Year I seem to find a reason to be more joyful and hopeful.  Some years it comes from a New Year’s resolution or a hope that last year’s problems are over and it is time for a new beginning.  This year though, the source of my new found joy comes from our new ordinations to the priesthood and the diaconate.

On January 11 of this year I had the joyful opportunity to ordain Keith Garvin, a seminarian for the Diocese of Shreveport, to the diaconate.  On May 31, 2014, I will ordain Deacon Keith Garvin to the priesthood and seminarian Jerry Daigle to the diaconate. Then, on June 28, I will ordain 16 men to the permanent diaconate who will serve in the most eastern parishes to the most western parishes of the diocese.  This is such a wonderful change for our diocese and it should give us hope, not only because we have new priests and deacons to serve our parishes, but because these new ordinations and our growing number of seminarians are a sign of a Church alive in Jesus Christ. This surge of ordinations gives me hope because it is a true answer to the serious problem of our shrinking number of diocesan clergy.

I think we often view the serious lack of priests in our diocese as a problem the Church can solve with the change of the celibacy rule or by changing some other external aspect of Church teaching or of the life of a priest.  But I think this is an incomplete understanding of the real issue.  There are real current day issues that affect vocations.  For example, the majority of our Catholic families are smaller with only one or two children.  Also, the secular message to succeed and achieve financial independence is powerful and is often drowning out the value and appeal of a life lived in service to the community, the church or the world.  But even these real life obstacles are not the full answer to why less men and women seem to choose a religious vocation.

I believe our vocation problem is rooted in our lack of a personal and Church-wide understanding of our own life as a vocation, that is a life lived in response to the call of God.  I have often said that if our faith is not the center of our decision making, or the source of our motivation, or guide in a difficult moral decision, then we need to find out what is our central belief, our primary motivation in life and our guide in moral decision-making.  As disciples we are called to put Christ in the center.  When we decide not to go to Mass this or that Sunday, WHAT IS MORE IMPORTANT?  This decision is deeply important because the value that is more important than going to Mass is creating the person we are becoming.  As Christians we are to put Christ in our center so that we are daily shaped into someone more like Christ.  If we are not becoming more like Christ, then what are the more important values shaping us into?  Are we becoming a person who is more popular, richer, more beautiful, safer, more in control of our life on our terms, and seemingly more free?

The more we live together as the Body of Christ and live our vocation received at Baptism to become each day more like a disciple of Christ, then the more we will teach our children that to serve God is a noble and deeply worthwhile vocation.  And we will not even have to tell them this with our words because they will see it in our actions.  They will see it in what is most important to us.  We will live as a people called by God to service.

My hope this year and in years to come is that we will continue to have young men seek to enter the seminary and young women to consider the convent because they will have learned the value of service, the importance of faith and the wisdom of living their lives as a vocation, a call from Jesus Christ, to bring His love to the world.  My hope is that we have more vocations today and will ordain each year because of a renewed understanding in each of us throughout the diocese of what it means to be a disciple.  I hope each of us in our own spiritual lives will continue to discover new ways to be disciples of Jesus Christ because of our renewed involvement in the ACTS retreats, the Magnificat Association, our pro-life witness, our Catholic Schools, a renewed Catechetical program, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities, Youth Ministries, Hispanic Ministries and so many other faith-filled organizations and ministries of our diocese.  My hope is that as this renewal of heart deepens our faith and makes our discipleship more central to our lives so we will encourage new vocations to the Church because we believe that to choose a life in service of the Church is a noble and joyful vocation.

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