“Falling in love with Jesus Christ changes everything, but at the same time, falling out of love with Jesus Christ changes everything.”
That is what Father Matthew Gray, vicar of vocations for the Diocese of Charleston, relays to young men year-round, but especially during National Vocations Awareness Week, which takes place Nov. 1-7.
Celebrated annually, vocations week is a special time to promote discernment — to the priesthood, diaconate, and consecrated life as a religious brother or sister — through prayer and education. It is also a time to support and celebrate those who have already chosen these paths.
This year, Father Gray has turned the weeklong national celebration into a monthlong event for the diocese by using the teachings of The Melchizedek Project, a concept created for Catholic discernment groups to educate and inspire students in colleges, high schools or parish youth ministries.
The Melchizedek Project offers free literature to vocation leaders for presentations so they can help men tune into the call of Jesus Christ and discover their true vocation.
To that end, Father Gray will pray the rosary for a different seminarian every Monday and Wednesday night through Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. on the Vocations Facebook page. It will also be shared to the diocesan Facebook page.
The Melchizedek Project will help get the word out to young people who have considered a vocation, but who don’t know where to find out more or how to pursue it.
It is also important to note that those who complete seminary will begin the priesthood as highly educated men. They will earn a bachelor’s in philosophy and then go on to obtain a master’s in divinity or theology, for a total of eight years of education. If a new seminarian has already completed college, he would take two years of pre-theology and then four years of regular theology.
The Melchizedek Project is important in the goal to increase vocations. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, the total number of priests in the United States decreased by 1,649 — from 37,578 to 35,929 — between 2015 and 2019.
Father Gray said that lately, however, he believes there has been a renewed interest in the priesthood.
“I ask them, ‘Why do you want to do this? With all the bad press and everything negative going on in the world?’ But, I think that is exactly why they are pursuing it at this time. Because of how things are. They want to make a change.”
Father Gray made the point that apostles were believed to be the first priests and they were chosen by Jesus himself.
“That continues today,” he explained. “We are chosen to pursue religious life and it is a beautiful life filled with joy, happiness and courage.”