The Archdiocese of Portland helped host 260 vocations directors from around the globe last month.

The National Conference of Diocesan Vocations Directors held its convention Aug. 26-30 at the Hilton Hotel in Vancouver, Washington, drawing vocations promoters from dioceses in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the U.K., Germany, Australia and New Zealand. Dioceses of the northwestern United States hosted the convention.

One of the keynote speakers during the week was Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, leader of Mount Angel Abbey and its seminary. A theologian who taught in Rome and Mount Angel for decades and who has written books for lay audiences, Abbot Jeremy told the vocations directors that it’s important to find something as a center for the task of teaching theology to future priests.

At Mount Angel, for example, all theology has the Eucharist as its core. “That’s an answer to ‘How does this all fit together?’” Abbot Jeremy said.

Passionate about the topic, Abbot Jeremy told a hotel ballroom full of priests that various disciplines of theology can be opened up and clarified via the eucharistic structure.

One better understands ecclesiology, the study of the nature of the church, by seeing that it is the eucharistic celebration that brings the assembly into being, he said. Scripture study unfolds when seminarians realize that the Bible and sacraments “are in dynamic relationship,” with God speaking and the church ready to respond. “There is a dynamic in Scripture that is driving toward sacrament,” Abbot Jeremy explained. He told the vocation directors that Christology, another major theological enterprise, makes sense only in the context of the Paschal Mystery, which becomes real at Mass.

The Eucharist, Abbot Jeremy said, is the best reflection of a theological understanding of time. The Mass is a memorial, but Jesus linked the rite to what was coming on Good Friday. “He establishes a means of contacting the saving power available from the moment of his death,” Abbot Jeremy said. “It happened in the past, but our remembering makes it the same event . . . here and now.”

The Eucharist even helps seminarians grasp the greatest of mysteries, the Trinity, said the abbot. Liturgy shows the movement of God toward the world and the world toward God. The Son comes from the Father, with the Spirit involved, and the church at each Mass offers the Son back, again with the Spirit involved. “In two directions, we see Father, Son, Spirit,” he said.

Moral theology, Abbot Jeremy explained, is based on the fact that Jesus formed and sent disciples. The Mass, he said, is about being sent as is clear from the very word Mass, which comes from the Latin verb for “to be sent.” He clarified that faith is not really about “being good” but about transformation in Christ, the very promise of the Eucharist.

“The academic study of theology can make the church stronger, so much more vital,” Abbot Jeremy concluded.

Many vocations directors were strengthened by the abbot’s message and by the annual gathering, in its 56th year.

“I feel hope,” said Father Jonathan Sawicki of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His diocese was one of several that experienced the sting of scandal in 2018 when Pennsylvania’s attorney general published a grand jury report on clergy sex abuse and cover-ups.

“We’ve been through a difficult year,” Father Sawicki said. “This week we see the task at hand is to be part of the solution. We should be growing in holiness.”

Father Michael Norton of the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky, said it’s hard to overestimate the value of spending a week with people who are in the same ministry.

In another session, Father Daniel Barnett of the Diocese of Spokane told fellow vocations promoters to see the people they work with not as objects needing pastoral care, but as other humans with a role in God’s plan for evangelization.

Father Barnett reported that, as sex abuse scandals have hit, vocations actually have risen. Young men want to help be part of the solution and build up the church, he said.

The vocations directors were treated to a performance of “Tolton,” a Saint Luke Productions drama about the calling and formation of the first black priest in the nation. Father Augustus Tolton, born a slave, was ordained in 1886 after going for formation in Rome because no U.S. seminary would accept him.

“The harvest is rich,” lead actor Jim Coleman told the audience after the performance.

Coleman made the group laugh by saying, “Tell your friends about the show. Tell your enemies about the show.”