The promotion of vocations is vital to keeping the Church strong

by Paul Braun | New Earth

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Bishop John Folda lays his hands on Father Paul Kuhn during the Ordination Mass on June 3 at St. Mary's Cathedral.

“May they be worthy co-workers with our Order, so that by their preaching, and through the grace of the Holy Spirit, the words of the Gospel may bear fruit in human hearts and reach even to the ends of the earth.”

With these words, Bishop John Folda of the Diocese of Fargo, led the gathered faithful in a Prayer of Ordination for Deacons Scott Karnik, Paul Kuhn and Jayson Miller on June 3, at the Cathedral of St. Mary’s in Fargo.

The Ordination Mass brings to an end many years of study, prayer, discernment, and growth as Karnik, Kuhn and Miller prepared for the day they would join the fellowship of their brother priests in the Fargo Diocese.

But every journey must have a start. There is a great need for more young men to heed the call that God is sending to them, and it’s up to us, the faithful, to help nurture that call; the call to vocations.

Father Kurtis Gunwall is the Vocation Director of the Diocese of Fargo. His work involves helping young men and women to understand what God is calling them to do, especially if that call means becoming a priest, sister or brother in service to God.

“In my visits with students and young adults throughout the diocese, the ones who are really thinking about a vocation are open to it,” says Father Gunwall. “But, they don’t know how to pursue it, discern it and know it, and it’s a huge number. They are trying to sort it out, and that’s where the support of family, friends and their parish is needed to help them on this journey.”

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From l to r: Father Scott Karnik, Father Jayson Miller, Bishop John Folda, and Father Paul Kuhn gather for a photo immediately following the Ordination Mass on June 3 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo. (Tyson Kuznia | Legacy Photography)

Father Gunwall says recent studies reveal statistics that show family is relatively important in terms of the true encouragement. However, according to half of the seminarians questioned in the studies, a family member or a friend also tried to discourage them from going. But, it took the family and parish support to overcome that.

“The regular faith-life of the family as a whole definitely has a great impact, says Father Gunwall. “People may find God when they get to college if they have the foundation that says in the Scriptures that, if we raise up a child in the way they should go they will not depart from it. Alternatively, in our modern world, they will return to God when that seed that God can work with is planted by the family in time of prayer, like meal prayers, simple graces, and saying the Rosary. If they get the experience of it as a family, at some point it touches them, and that’s where God works most of all.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has five recommendations for priests and lay-people to help promote vocations in their parishes:

• Pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. Jesus says in Matthew 9:38 “to beg the master of the harvest to send laborers into the vineyard.” If we want more priests, sisters and brothers, we all need to ask.

• Teach young people how to pray. Pope Benedict XVI said that unless we teach our youth how to pray, they will never hear God calling them into a deeper relationship with Him and into the discipleship of the Church.

• Invite active young adults and teens to consider a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life. A simple, sincere comment should not be underestimated.

• Make it attractive. Show the priesthood for what it truly is – a call to be a spiritual father to the whole family of faith. Similarly, the consecrated life for a young woman is a call to be united to Christ in a unique way, and to be a spiritual mother to those she encounters in her life and service. The challenge for priests and religious is to be joyful models of their vocations.

• Preach it, brother! Vocations must be talked about regularly if a “vocation culture” is to take root in parishes and homes. This means, first and foremost, the people need to hear about vocations from priests through homilies, prayers of the faithful, and discussions at home and in the classroom. Vocations kept out of sight are out of mind.

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Bishop Folda anoints the hands of newly ordained Father Paul Kuhn with Holy Chrism to symbolize the priest’s distinctive participation in Christ’s priesthood. (Tyson Kuznia | Legacy Photography)

Father Gunwall says that the “invitation” is crucial for getting young people to consider religious life.

“Specifically point out what it is you see, because otherwise young people may ignore it,” says Father Gunwall. “That way, they will in turn recognize what God is doing in their life, and God can work with that planting of a seed. And remember, this is not pressure, it’s an invitation, a gift to invite someone to something good. However, if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, give the young person’s name to your pastor or the Diocesan Vocations office, and let them make the invitation.”

In the road that led newly-ordained Father Jayson Miller to the priesthood, it was a seed planted by his parish priest that may have gotten the journey started, that according to his father, Dennis Miller. Jayson thought about the priesthood at a young age, maybe as early as first or second grade, but he also showed great promise in athletics, especially baseball.

Father Miller suffered an injury when he was in the sixth grade, and asked his parish priest, Monsignor Jeffrey Wald, to sign his cast. Monsignor Wald jokingly told young Jayson that maybe this act would be the start of his vocation journey.

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Father Scott Karnik is vested with the priestly stole and chasuble. (Tyson Kuznia | Legacy Photography)

Jayson’s father agrees that God only needs that small seed to take root to grow a call to religious life. And while he and his wife, Judy, encouraged Father Jayson throughout his discernment journey, they tried not to “over encourage.”

“I believe that people can hear from God,” says Dennis Miller. “However, I think sometimes if we push too hard, people will say ‘I’m not going to listen.’ As parents, we need to have faith in God that he is all-powerful, that he can speak to our children, and it’s more important for us to lead Godly and holy lives, trying as hard as we can to be faithful to our vows of marriage and to our responsibility to the Church.”

Father Gunwall agrees, saying; “I don’t ever encourage parents to push the faith, but to include the faith in how you live out this love of God and God’s love for us.”

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Bishop John Folda speaks to Fathers Karnik, Kuhn and Miller during the homily

In order for God’s plan to be revealed, young people discerning religious life need to take the time to shut out the world and listen to God. The USCCB also has five tips for young people looking into religious life:

• Practice the faith. This is the first step for any young person desiring to discern any call in life.

• Enter into the Silence. We can only “hear” the voice of God if we are quiet. Put away technology and listen to God, the great I AM. Young people should try to spend 15 minutes of quiet prayer each day – this is where you can begin to receive clear direction in your lives.

• Be a good disciple. Young people can become true followers of Jesus Christ by serving those around them. By discovering your call to discipleship, you also discover your particular call within the Church.

• Ask God what He wants for your life and know He only wants what is good for you.

• Just do it! Remember, the seminary or convent is a place of discernment. You will not be ordained or asked to profess vows for many years, providing ample opportunity to explore the possibility of a call to priesthood or religious life.

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Bishop Folda raises the consecrated host as newly ordained Fathers Karnik, Kuhn and Miller look on. (Kristina Lahr | New Earth)

As lay people, parishioners have a major role to play in developing vocations. According to Father Gunwall: “It is the whole family of the church, that is, the parish family, which has an impact. These are the people who are not just walking into church and walking out, and if the young people know you, that is also part of the encouragement.”

We, the faithful of the diocese, welcome our three new priests with open arms, and we pray for their success and continued growth in Christ and in service to us all.