In my third year of theology at Mundelein Seminary, I'm taking an introductory course in canon (Church) law, part of which deals with the duty we all have in promoting vocations to the priesthood.

We all know that, right now, there is a serious decline in priestly vocations. Since the Albany Diocese is confronting this problem with its "Called By Name" program, it's appropriate to write about what the Church teaches regarding the promotion of vocations.

In my course, we considered Canon 223: "The duty of fostering vocations rests with the entire Christian community so that the needs of the sacred ministry in the universal Church are provided for sufficiently. This duty especially binds Christian families, educators and, in a special way, priests, particularly pastors."

While the promotion of vocations is a responsibility for all Catholics, it's the priest who has a primary and fundamental duty to be a promoter of vocations.

Oct. 11 marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the date Pope Benedict XVI chose to start the Year of Faith. The Vatican II "Decree of Priestly Training" noted: "All priests especially are to manifest an apostolic zeal in fostering vocations and are to attract the interest of youths to the priesthood by their own life, lived in a humble and industrious manner and in a happy spirit, as well as by mutual priestly charity and fraternal sharing of labor."

I believe this is best fulfilled when priests inspire vocations by the witness of their lives. I say this as someone who will, by God's grace, be a priest in less than two years.

There's an old Latin adage that says, "Verba docent, exempla trahunt" - that words can teach, but it's example that attracts. I know myself that it was the example of a holy priest that led me seriously to consider priesthood.

Pope Benedict XVI has written, "How can young men desire to become priests if the role of the ordained ministry is not clearly defined and recognized?" It seems the Holy Father is asking that all priests should love Christ so intimately that young men will see in them a model of Christ and be attracted to that holiness of life.

The holiness of the priest - or lack thereof - has powerful effects. St. Pope Pius X, on his 50th anniversary of ordination in 1908, wrote in his "Letter to the Catholic Priests," "For the priest cannot be good or bad for himself alone; his conduct and way of life have far-reaching consequences for the people. A truly good priest is an immense gift, wherever he may be."

One of the outstanding priests at Mundelein Seminary often says, "Holiness looks like something." Holiness is not simply internal, confined to the recesses of the soul; it fashions every part of the person.

True holiness manifests itself in a joyful spirit. St. Paul wrote, "Be joyous imitators of Christ" (Eph 5:1). I don't think Paul was referring to superficial joyfulness, but to the deep joy of knowing Christ, loving Him, imitating Him, revealing Him and never letting go of Him.

No one considering the priesthood is inspired by priests who appear joyless, sad, disinterested or bored. Young men are inspired by a priest who loves being a priest, revealed through the joy and enthusiasm of his ministry - a priest whose life reveals his love for Christ and His Church. His example can stir the heart of a man called by God to say: "That's the type of priest I want to be."

God has placed many great priests in my path. They have inspired me by the holiness of their lives, their fidelity to the Lord and their deep-seated joy at being priests. They have set the bar high.

Without their example, I don't think I would have been able to answer the Lord's call to become one of them. My prayer is that I persevere in imitating their example and be as faithful as they have been in their loving service to our Lord.

Please pray that those whom the Lord is calling to the priesthood may be strengthened by the witness of holy priests in their lives; and that the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, the mother of all priests, may give me and my fellow seminarians the grace of perseverance and make us holy priests.

(Brian Slezak is studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago. He's a native of St. Margaret of Cortona Church in Rotterdam Junction, a mission of St. Joseph's parish in Schenectady.)