So, if you were in charge of recruiting Catholic priests, how and where would you advertise? Perhaps a poster in the church porch or possibly handouts for the men of the parish after Sunday Mass. I wonder however if you consider beer mats. This is exactly what the Vocations Office for the Catholic Church in England and Wales have recently done.
New priests from beer mats? Perhaps at first it might seem a little tacky or even irreverent to advertise in this way. The call to priesthood is a vocation from God; you don’t apply for this way of life like you would any other job. But then, the reality is that each of us has a vocation. God calls us in different ways. Those whom God calls to be priests are not born special - they are ordinary people who get a call to do something special.
If you met a priest who claimed he got his calling after being woken up with a bright light at the end of his bed one night, or by voices in his head you might be tempted to move along quickly. But this example, extreme as it may be, can get us wondering how exactly does God call people.
In the New Testament, Jesus proclaims his message with deeds as well as words. Miracles are not just stunts to prove that he is God – they are real signs of his love and of his desire for a broken world to be transformed by the values of the kingdom. Today, the Catholic community experiences the presence of Jesus in various ways, including what we call the ‘sacraments’ (baptism, Eucharist, confirmation marriage etc.). The water used at baptism is exactly that, water; but through its use, God touches our lives. It can often be the same with vocation. God doesn’t speak through thunderclaps, but through the gentle breeze (1 Kings). Similarly, he can touch our lives through ordinary circumstances and through the people round about us. If you speak to priests about origins of their vocation, many will say that it was the good example of other priests, a word from a teacher or an experience during a pilgrimage that triggered or heightened their sense of God’s call in their lives.
When you consider this then perhaps beer mats aren’t as daft as they first sound. When people gather with friends for a social drink, they often like to put the world to rights; to talk about the issues and things that are important to them and to discuss their own lives and choices. So picture the scene. A group of young people sit down for a drink and someone notices the beer mat, picks it up and says, “Have you seen this?” It provokes a whole mixture of different responses, not only about the advertising itself, but also about what priesthood means to everyone there. Possibly, if one is a suitable candidate, his friends might even turn to him and ask if he has ever considered the priesthood. Who knows, it might just be the catalyst he needs.
According to the Gospel of Saint John, the first miracle that Jesus worked was water into wine at a wedding (Chapter 2). It was a very helpful and simple thing to do; meeting the needs of people that day in a practical way. “He let his glory be seen” the gospel tells us. So perhaps we can learn to listen to the voice of God in the small and ordinary things of life, not waiting instead for him to hit us with some big heavenly manifestation. So be alert, because even the smallest flower or the most passing encounter with another person might be a life-changing moment, not to be missed.
by Fr Paul Embery, Director of the National Office for Vocation (NOV)