Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hancaquam: What to do (and not do) about vocations

What to do (and not do) about vocations: "
A four year old post on vocations to the priesthood. . .

I wanted to suggest the following about vocations:

1). There is no vocations crisis. God is calling more than enough men to the priesthood to cover the needs of the Church. The real crisis is twofold: a). crisis of commitment and b). crisis of encouragement. The crisis of commitment is the result of the reluctance of the men who are called to say YES to their call. Most men called to priesthood are opting for careers that will only partially perfect their gifts. They can be happy, of course, but they are not picking up the greater challenge of sacrificial service in the Church. The crisis of encouragement is more complex. Basically, mothers and fathers are not supporting sons who express an interest in say YES to God’s call. This has to do with a decline in the prestige of the priesthood and the easier availability of a formal education for lower and middle-class men. We also have to look to the bishops, their vocation directors, and their discernment and vetting processes. Do the people the bishop trusts to recruit and vet his vocations really believe that an ordained priesthood is necessary for the flourishing of the Church? Is there a culture of priestly community in the diocese? Are the priests happy and encouraging of vocations? Bottomline: no sensible young man with a vocation is remotely interested in signing on to a religious order or a diocese if it is clear that those in charge think his vocation to ordained ministry is an ideological problem, a theological inconvenience, or a political obstacle to the Great Lay Revolution. And no young man is remotely interested in joining an order or a diocese controlled by bitter, angry ideologues who loudly and proudly celebrate the coming demise of the priesthood. Who wants to jump on a failing project as it sinks under the weight of its stewards’ neglect?

2). If we have all the vocations we need, but those vocations aren’t saying YES, what do we need to do? First, give God constant thanks for the vocations He has called. Gratitude sets the stage for humility and the current crisis in commitment and encouragement needs all the humility it can get. Second, pray that God will encourage (literally, “strengthen the hearts of”) those whom He has called. Pray that they will say YES. Third, personally, one-on-one invite a young man to think about priesthood. If there’s any inkling in his mind that he has been called, your affirmation will reinforce that inkling into a stirring and the stirring into a desire and so on. Fourth, make sure that you understand who your priest is. I mean, study up on the nature of the priesthood. Get the Catechism and spend some time studying what the Church teaches about priesthood. Ignore functional models of priesthood (i.e., the priesthood is a job or a role) and ignore attempts to turn the Catholic priest into a Protestant minister (i.e., a minister of the Word in the pulpit but not a priest at the altar of sacrifice!). Also avoid all attempts to understand that priesthood is rooted in baptism only. We all minister to one another out of our baptisms. But the ordained priest ministers out of his baptism AND out of his ordination. To say that he ministers as a priest out of his baptism only is an attempt by some to diminish the sacramental character of Holy Orders and reduce the priesthood to something like a Parochial Facilitator of Charisms. One more thing to avoid: please don’t lump a vocation to the priesthood in with vocations to the married life, the single life, ad. nau. Of course, these vocations are perfectly true and good and beautiful. But we aren’t suffering as a Church from a lack of husbands and single women. Lumping priestly vocations in with all other Christian vocations tends to level the priestly vocation and hides the urgency of the crisises of commitment and encouragement. This is NOT about the priestly vocation being “better” than any other vocation. It is about the Church being loud and clear that we need priests and that we value the vocation for itself and not as a tacked-on afterthought during the prayers of the people.

Those called to priesthood will not be encouraged to say YES to their call until it is crystal clear to them that we need them. Communion Services and other forms of “celebrations in the absence of a priest” only serve to reinforce the idea that a priest for Mass is a luxury. Given all the other negatives about the priesthood these days, do we really need to carry on with our Sunday worship as if the priest were a rare creature slowly moving into extinction? I imagine a young man in the pews at St. Bubba’s, attending a month or two’s worth of Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest and thinking, “Hey, I don’t need to say YES to God’s call to priesthood. We’re getting along just fine here at St. Bubba’s w/o one.” In fact, why don’t we just elect one bishop somewhere in Kansas to consecrate several warehouses of hosts every week and then use FedEx to ship those hosts to all the parishes in the country for communion services. That way we can get rid of the priesthood and the episcopate altogether. Much cheaper and easier than educating men to be parish priests. Well, I guess we would have to keep one priest and one seminarian in the pipeline at all times as replacements.

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