The theme from the 1989 film “Field of Dreams” captures the essence of what our current pope and his two predecessors teach on building a culture of vocations within the Church: If you build it, they will come. Pope Francis teaches that one’s vocation becomes clearer after an authentic encounter with Jesus Christ, saying, “When we welcome Christ, we live a decisive encounter which sheds light on our existence, pulls us out of the anguish of our small world and makes us become disciples enamored with the Master.”

Nearly two years ago, an initiative began to have a parish vocation ministry actively promoting vocations in every parish in the Diocese of Burlington. A pastor with a group of committed parishioners works to create opportunities for young people to prayerfully encounter Jesus Christ and begin to form their inner ear to listen to God’s call to love and serve others in the Church. In seeking to implement the Diocesan Synod, one aspect that makes a parish vibrant is the fruit it bears in the vineyard. Vocations in the Church are healthy signs of parish vibrancy.

In 2015, the Diocese of Grand Island, Nebraska, hosted a Parish Vocation Ministry workshop. Grand Island’s demographics are similar to Vermont’s: mostly rural, 18 percent Catholic, 11 Catholic schools and 73 parishes (as of 2016). The Diocese of Burlington, which covers all of Vermont, is also mostly rural, 19 percent Catholic and has 14 Catholic schools and 69 parishes. Three and half years ago, there was one seminarian from the Diocese of Grand Island; today it has nine.

After the workshop and implementing Rhonda Gruenewald’s book on vocation ministry, “Hundredfold,” Glenda, an attendee, said, “I am happy we have a young man entering seminary from our parish this coming fall. Through bulletin announcements, Eucharistic adoration, dinner, events to meet our seminarians, we are promoting the priesthood, diaconate, consecrated life and married life on an on-going basis.” If you build it, they will come. A vibrant parish is built upon Christ and its mission to proclaim the Kerygma, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and is particularly aimed at the domestic Church, the family. A vibrant parish is one that engages families and under-stands and celebrates marriage as a vocation and not just the default. Marriage is not only a vocation but also a sacrament and the way God willed husbands and wives to become saints and to sanctify their family. How are we as a Diocese and individual parishes spiritually feeding couples and families in our parishes? How might we teach them to enrich their homes with different devotions and traditions of our Catholic faith?

In his apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in America,” Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “The renewal of the Church in America will not be possible without the active presence of the laity. Therefore, they are largely responsible for the future of the Church.” The responsibility of promoting vocations is entrusted to everyone in the Church: bishops, priests, consecrated, laity, single, married, adults, children, young and old. Parishes that are alive in their faith and from where vocations are coming are signs of life and vibrancy because they make discernment of God’s will interesting and attractive.

Together we need to work to build a culture of vocations. If your parish has not begun a parish vocation ministry, please speak with your pastor and together contact the vocation office. Parish Vocation Ministry is a long-term investment, a marathon — not a sprint. Just like the game of baseball, it’s a loooonng season, but “if you build it, they will come.”

— Father Jon Schnobrich is vocations director for the Diocese of Burlington.

—Originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.