Growing up I’d been serving at Mass since I was about 6-7 years old, but all throughout that time the idea of priesthood or the notion of vocations as a whole was never actually brought up, and it wasn’t until I was in my Freshman year of college that someone asked me if I’d thought about the priesthood. While this was most definitely God’s plan, this still shows the current state of vocations in our Church.
Within the past 50 years or so the Catholic church we have become much more a part of the culture of this country, and while this has it benefits, there are also some adverse effects, and from my eyes as a seminarian, this has affected the notion of religious vocations very negatively. The focus on materialism, and how the worth as a person can be calculated by how much money they make or how big their house is, has infected our idea of life, and now this idea is the lens through which we view ourselves, others and how to go about living our future. When in reality we should be thinking about how am I using what God has given to me to serve Him best, and how I am devoting my life to growing into a deeper relationship with God.
To me, there seems to be a connection and an effect that must be overcome, between these two points: lack of response to religious life/Priesthood, and the increased focus on materialism by the Culture.
In the first year or two after I entered seminary I would talk with people and they would ask me questions about seminary and inevitably the conversation would lead to the person making the statement of something to the effect of ‘Wow you’re giving up so much’ or ‘don’t you like women and want a family.’ While on the surface level you can see that this question is focused on my good, and concern for my welfare, but when you look deeper into these kinds of questions, the implication can be seen. The implication is that how can you be happy living a life for God, a life without wealth, family, etc. “Won’t you be lonely”?
These were my concerns when I first entered seminary too. Will I be lonely, What will life be like without a family, will I have enough money. But the more that I focused on what was fulfilling to me (The Mass, Prayer, Participating Actively in the Parish) the more that I discovered what God was calling me to, and the more that these prior fears drifted away. This is the task of discernment, the allowance God into one’s life, letting go and giving God the reigns to guide your life.This is where our prayers need to be focused, asking God to give grace and strength to our young men and women so that they might respond with open hearts to the will of God.
So often at Mass we pray for “an increase in Vocations to the Priesthood,” but really what we should be praying for is “That people respond to their Vocations.” God already knows who He is calling to the priesthood, religious life, married life, etc. but it’s the response that we should be praying for, its our choice to respond where we needs Gods help.
Just as a side note, the Vocations Office did a study and found that if each parish in the diocese had one man, every ten years enter seminary the priest shortage would be completely solved. I was talking with one of the other Indianapolis seminarians, and we were talking about what would happen if each parish got one guy to attend seminary. This would be amazing, and this should be the goal of every priest, and parishioner.
I say this for the purpose of helping the members of my parish and those of the whole Church to understand better the challenges and doubts that young men and women were discerning a religious vocation face so that the laity will be better equipped to encourage Vocations.
If you think someone would make a good priest or member of a religious community, then please tell them that. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get a person thinking about their vocation.