Fr. Craig Giera is the Director of Priestly Vocations for the Archdiocese of Detroit. Before this role, he was Pastor of St. Ephrem Parish, Sterling Heights. Fr. Giera received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Wayne State University before attending seminary. While at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, he earned a Bachelor of Philosophy and Master of Divinity before being ordained in 2010. Later, he earned a Pontifical Degree of Sacred Theology and a doctorate in ministry from Duke University.
It was late at night on a pitch-black road in the middle of Ukraine. I sat on the side of the road with the priest and religious sister I was traveling with for quite some time because we had run out of gas, and this was a road less traveled. When someone finally came around and got us moving again, I exclaimed to the priest, “What we have here is a priest, a nun, and a son of a gun!” He laughed out loud! What I remember most about that missionary trip, almost twenty-five years ago, was not the harsh conditions the people were left in after the Communist regime, or the so few Roman Catholic Priests in such a large country, but the joy of all the priests I met radiating amid the monumental task of rebuilding the Catholic Faith. All of them had this difficult task, yet all of them were so incredibly happy to be one of the chosen to bring Christ to those who have been denied him for so long. I wasn’t even considering priesthood at the time, but after that trip, I yearned to have that same joy.
While we are not being denied the ability to practice or learn about our faith, we are beginning to see the effects of a whole generation who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The fastest-growing “religion” in our nation, which has recently surpassed the number of Catholics, are “nones,” those who do not identify with any faith. On top of that, we are in a major decline of priests actively serving in the Archdiocese of Detroit. While we have many outstanding priests who love to serve, much like the priests I met in Ukraine, there are not enough of us. For the past number of years, we have been ordaining fewer men than needed to replace the number of those retiring or passing away. Moreover, this is with many of our senior priests who continue to pastor and serve parishes well into their retirement years. Unless something changes, in less than a decade, we will have approximately less than half the number of priests serving in the Archdiocese of Detroit. That is almost half the number of priests who can offer Mass, hear confessions, anoint the sick, and the many other things we have come to expect from our wonderful priests.
At the Chrism Mass, Archbishop Vigneron, announced a Year of Praying for Priestly Vocations for the Archdiocese of Detroit. This year of prayer will begin on the Vigil of Pentecost to rally everyone to pray more fervently for more men to respond to Christ’s generous offer to become holy and joyful priests. It starts on the Vigil of Pentecost because that is normally when our ordinations are celebrated. Sadly, however, our year begins with no men being ordained to the priesthood for Detroit. In its place, we are inviting priests to the Cathedral to make a Holy Hour to ask God to send us a new generation of priests. Throughout the year, we will be praying for priestly vocations at every Mass celebrated. There will also be many opportunities and resources for parishes, priests, men discerning, families, and schools to get involved at prayforvocations.com. After the year is through, we will continue the effort to support vocations. A plan is in place to create an ongoing culture of vocations in our parishes and communities, not only for the priesthood but all vocations.
Usually, when Jesus is confronted by someone in the Gospel, he asks them what it is they seek or want. We respond with our very focused answer for more priests. We begin with our fervent prayers because we know that prayer works. Sometimes people think of prayer as a consolation prize. “There is nothing I can do, so I’ll pray for you,” as the saying goes. Yet, everything we do should begin and end with prayer since prayer can “move mountains.” Jesus never ceased praying to the Father and teaches us to do so as well. Holy Hours, Masses, vocal prayers, and fasting on First Fridays are among the many ways the faithful can ask the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers to the vineyard.
From my own experience as a vocation director and talking with other vocation directors, men are not answering the call because of the commitment. This is why all vocations are in trouble. Our culture tells our youth to live for themselves in their own freedom, that most likely something better will come along if they wait, and that they can do anything they want in life. The response to this is that they choose to do nothing. I’m certainly oversimplifying it, but this sums up the many questions I get from youth when I visit schools. They ask if I regret being a priest and my choices. They are focused on what one has to give up rather than what one gains. And there is so much a man gains from saying yes to God’s vocation as a priest. Priests are invited into the most intimate moments of people’s lives like weddings and funerals. We perform miracles every day on the altars upon which we celebrate Mass to feed the people with the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The joy I get when I absolve someone from their sins that have been weighing them down is worth more than anything this world has to offer. Of course sacrifice is involved, but that comes with any vocation. The cross Jesus offers us to take up is better than what the world could ever give us.
Prayer is a start but there are many other things we can do to foster vocations to the priesthood. Consider inviting men you see at church to discern a call to the priesthood. They need our support and encouragement. Sometimes the simple affirmation that they have the qualities to make a great priest is enough to give them the courage to take the next step. It is not an easy task to discern a call to the priesthood alone; we can be the ones that accompany these men on their journey. We will share in a portion of all that they will do as a priest, just as St. Thérèse of Lisieux shared in all the missionary efforts of priests as she prayed for them — so much so that she became the patron saint of missionaries even though she never left the convent.
The reason why the priests I met in Ukraine were so joyful, even amid struggle, was because they courageously stepped up to the challenge of becoming the man God had called them to be. Hard work, adventure, problem-solving, and toil are gifts that lead to a satisfying Christian life worth living. Jesus reminds us that we gain life by losing it. We need men to lay down their lives for the service of the Church. In this year, marked for praying for priestly vocations, let us pray fervently that our sons, grandsons, nephews, and friends will say yes to the adventure of their life.