I Have Called You By Name, You Are Mine
By Paul McAvoy
The Bible abounds with vocational imagery. From the calling of the prophets in the Old Testament to New Testament stories of the good servants and laborers in the vineyard, the message from Scripture is clear: help wanted, apply within. “Fear not,” we hear in Isaiah 43:1, “for I have redeemed you: I have called you by name, you are mine.” While all of us are called by name to have an active role in our faith, some have been given a special calling to serve the Church and the people as an ordained priest. Father Matthew Mason, the new director of vocations for the diocese, is responsible for helping men discern that special call.
Father Matt has been pastor of Gate of Heaven parish in Lancaster for the past five-and-half-years. A native of Boscawen and a graduate of homeschooling and local Catholic schools, including Thomas More College in Merrimack, Father Matt was admitted to St. John’s Seminary and ordained in 2009. “I grew up in a Catholic family and felt a desire to serve God and perhaps be a priest myself,” he said. “I had a lot of good priests in my life that I looked up to, including Father Leo Lefebvre. He was the pastor in my parish where I was an altar server. He was always just a humble and faithful priest.” Through the example of Father Lefebvre and other priests, Father Matt saw men living a fulfilling and joyful life by answering their vocational call. He is quick to point out that while the example of good priests is attractive to men who feel like they may have a vocation, ultimately that’s not enough.
“Vocations come from God, they don’t come from our hard work or our effort,” Father Matt said. “Our job is to foster the vocations that Jesus gives us.”
When Bishop Peter Libasci formed a committee of priests to look at the diocesan vocations program and make recommendations, Father Matt served as one of the committee members and among other suggestions, the committee recommended the appointment of a full-time vocations director. When Bishop Libasci approached Father Matt about taking on this role, he prayed about it and humbly accepted. Prayer, as Father Matt points out, is central to this whole endeavor.
“One thing we talked about was the need first and foremost to start with prayer. A lot of priests are excited to invest in vocations but without prayer and God’s grace nothing can happen,” Father Matt said. “It has to start with prayer - that’s what Jesus said, that if you want more workers for the vineyard you have to ask.” The first week of November was Vocations Awareness Week, with a theme of Ask the Lord of the Harvest in schools and parishes. The goal is to promote a culture of prayer, to have Holy Hours and people throughout the diocese praying for vocations to the priesthood.
There is no question that there has been a challenge in vocations in recent decades, especially in New England. Many priests who have faithfully served for years are being asked to postpone retirement because there simply aren’t the men to replace them in the same numbers. However, men are still answering the call. Father Matt is encouraged by the thirteen men that Manchester has as seminarians. “I’m really impressed by their desire to serve the Lord and the Church, and to evangelize to our whole state,” he said. “There is a real desire on the part of those men to help others grow and bring people into a personal friendship with Jesus Christ…to get out of their comfort zone and be willing to risk a little bit for the sake of people who need to hear the Good News.”
Father Matt recognizes that there is more of a missionary focus to the priesthood now, summed up by Pope Francis’ call to go out and meet people who are on the margins. Father Matt and the committee are excited about finding innovative ways to help men listen for and answer their vocation in this environment. New ideas for the diocese range from instituting a discernment house for men who are thinking about the priesthood to hosting Quo Vadis camps (Latin for ‘Where are you going’) for young people to specifically explore their calling. Other initiatives, such as providing mentors to accompany men in their discernment and a special focus on Hispanic and multi-cultural vocations, paint a vibrant picture for the future of the Church in New Hampshire.
The positive energy that Father Matt is bringing to his new role can be felt immediately. Sure, there are challenges, he acknowledges, but with the Gospel, the prayers of the people, and the support of his brother priests and Bishop Libasci, he’s ready to get started. “I just love priesthood so much, and I want every parish and every area of our state to have healthy and holy priests serving the people,” Father Matt said. “If this work of vocations can help make that happen, then I’m very happy.”