CNA REPORT- “Sometimes the obvious needs to be stated: God is calling a sufficient number of men to be priests in the Catholic Church because he loves you and he loves your children and he loves your grandchildren. And the purpose of the priest is to bring people to Jesus and Jesus to people.”
With these words, Father Brett Brannen opened his Sept. 3 talk at the Serra International Convention in Anchorage, where more than 200 lay Catholics from nine countries gathered to learn how to better promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
Father Brannen is the vice-rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland and former vocation director of the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia. His work in vocations has led him to the fundamental belief that God will find priests for the Catholic Church.
Not without prayer
“He is infinite in power. He can solve this problem for us,” Father Brannen told an attentive crowd at the Dena’ina Convention Center in Anchorage.
“When I was first named vocation director in Savanna, we had only two seminarians and it didn’t look good. There was very little happening to promote a culture,” he said. “Many of our priests were very discouraged, and everyone was throwing up there hands and saying, ‘We’re never going to have priests in Savannah.’”
He, too, was discouraged until his spiritual director rebuked him for his lack of faith and told him, “God could raise up priests by snapping his fingers.”
But that is not how God works, Father Brannen added.
“We must do our part. Not because God needs us, but because he wants to give us a chance to demonstrate our dignity by being a part of this great work,” he said. ““Running a vocation program is 99.9 percent God’s grace and .1 percent our human effort. I may be exaggerating our part, but that .1 percent is an enormous effort on our part.”
Mostly, that effort entails prayer, he added.
Quoting Blessed Hannibal DiFrancia, Father Brannen said, “‘Jesus teaches us that vocations in the church do not come by chance, nor by themselves, nor can we make them out of human effort alone. They come to us from the mercy of God. If we do not pray to obtain them, they will not be given us.’”
He noted that prayer must begin in the home.
Father Brannen especially highlighted the impact of families who pray together.
Specifically, he spoke of the role of the father and said that studies indicate that children are 45 percent more likely to grow up to be practicing Catholics if they pray with their father.
“Why is that? Because to a little, tiny child, the father of the family is the most authoritative person in the world,” Father Brannen explained. “Because of his large stature, his deep voice — he is the head of the family. When a little child sees their father kneeling and talking to Jesus, he says, ‘I don’t know who this Jesus is but I need him, too.’”
A New Discernment Guide
To aid young men in their vocation journey, Father Brannen wrote a book, published this year, “To Save a Thousand Souls: A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood.”
The book provides answers to nearly 200 questions about the priesthood and the process of discerning a call to the priesthood. It takes readers through the whole process of discernment, from the first inklings about the priesthood to ordination day.
“Young men need good information about priesthood because priesthood is a radical commitment and requires celibacy — it can be very intimidating,” Father Brannen said of his motives for writing the book.
He added that “most young men today, even Catholic young men who grew up in Catholic schools, do not have enough good information about priesthood to properly discern if that is their vocation.”
The book deals with questions like: Does God want me to be a priest? How do I know I can live celibacy? How is the priest’s soul changed when he is ordained? How do I overcome all these fears? How soon should I contact my vocation director? Should I date before I go to the seminary? What if a man has been sexually active in the past?
Other chapters deal with how parents can support their sons during the discernment process.
Despite the many challenges to the faith, Father Brannen said he has great hope for the priesthood and the future of the Catholic Church.
In recent years, he has seen younger men entering seminary and they are quality seminarians, he said.
“They love Jesus,” Father Brannen observed. “The church is raising up young men who are going to be wonderful, wonderful priests.”
To order a copy of Father Brannen’s new book, “To Save a Thousand Souls,” visit vianneyvocations.com