This year marks the 54th anniversary of the first World Day of Prayer for Vocations initiated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, observed this Sunday – May 7. On this day, the Bishops have requested that we pray for vocations, according to Jesus’ request in the Gospel of St. Matthew: "Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest" (Mt 9:38).

When you hear the word, “vocations,” what comes to mind? Probably, like most people, you think of priests and nuns. Perhaps you think of religious brothers as well. But there are other kinds of vocations that are included in this day of prayer that we don’t normally think about. We might not even be familiar with some of them.

Here’s the statement from the USCCB website:

The purpose of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is to publically fulfill the Lord's instruction to, ‘Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest’ (Mt 9:38; Lk 10:2). As a climax to a prayer that is continually offered throughout the Church, it affirms the primacy of faith and grace in all that concerns vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life. While appreciating all vocations, the Church concentrates its attention this day on vocations to the ordained ministries (priesthood and diaconate), to the Religious life in all its forms (male and female, contemplative and apostolic), to societies of apostolic life, to secular institutes in their diversity of services and membership, and to the missionary life, in the particular sense of mission ‘ad gentes’.

Yes, absolutely, we are asked (and indeed must) pray for more genuine vocations to the priesthood and consecrated religious life. Those vocations are essential to the Church. Also essential, however, are vocations to the permanent diaconate, societies of apostolic life, and secular institutes.

As an instructor for the Deacon Wives Program for my archdiocese, I’ve come to love and appreciate the diaconate in a way that others perhaps do not. In working with these wives, I come to know the “woman behind the man” and to understand what it takes to become an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church (a lot!) and what it takes to support that deacon in his ministry.

The role of the Deacon is threefold:

  • Minister of the Word – to proclaim and protect to the Word of God as evangelizer and teacher
  • Minister of the Liturgy – to be sanctifier and serve at the altar beside the priest
  • Minister of Charity and Justice – to be witness and guide for the faithful in caring for their needs, particularly in service to the needy

The role of the deacon’s wife is to enable her husband to fulfill his duties well and to serve beside him in whatever ways possible. That can be a very tall order!

Among the laity, there are single men and women, and married couples who choose to live their lives in accordance with the Evangelical Counsels (poverty, chastity, and obedience) and to live a specific lifestyle according to their chosen community. These are the individuals and couples who have been accepted into societies of apostolic life and secular institutes. Members of these societies and institutes live in the world and usually on their own and not in common housing (like a convent or rectory). Although some do agree to a standard of dressing, you probably would not be able to spot them on the street.

And that’s the point, because they are called to be a part of the world, rather than being apart from the world. I know these vocations well, because my husband and I belong to a society of apostolic life and have close associations with members of secular institutes through the Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt. As a couple, we’ve made a lifetime commitment to our society, adhere to a certain lifestyle (including a promise of poverty, chastity, and obedience) and follow certain requirements prescribed for our members. Yet, we carry on our lives just as you do – loving and caring for our children, working hard at our jobs, gathering with friends, enjoying wholesome entertainments and amusements, and living a full and joyful life.

I think these last three kinds of vocations – diaconate, societies of apostolic life, and secular institutes – usually get overlooked when it comes to talk and prayer for vocations. But we are all concrete, vital, and growing vocations in the Church, right alongside of the priesthood and consecrated religious life.

And we are all needed, because we each have a specific role to play in the life of the Church.

So, let me ask this of you. As you pray for vocations this Sunday on the 54th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, please pray for all vocations, won’t you?