Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Sunday 29 November |
Saint of the Day: Bl. Bernardo Francisco de Hoyos
home iconChurch
line break icon

A candid conversation about the source of vocations

ORDINATION

Jeffrey Bruno

Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 08/01/18

There's no quick-fix, but what could we learn from the dioceses and orders where young people are hearing God's call?

“Father, I’m glad you’re a priest—but I can’t imagine why anybody would want to be one.”

“Sister, I’m glad you’re a nun—but I can’t imagine why anybody would want to be one.”

Many priests and religious have been on the receiving end of comments like this. Many folks see priests and religious as useful, maybe even praiseworthy in some abstract way, but not worthy of imitation. The world, the flesh and the devil have always warred against enduring commitments, especially consecrated commitments. And our present culture—based on consumption, stimulation and distraction—seems to be especially suited to working against natural vocations (like marriage) and even more so against supernatural vocations (priesthood, consecrated life, sacramental marriage).

It should come as no surprise, then, that Catholics have seen a steep decline in recent decades in priesthood, consecrated life and sacramental marriage. What is surprising, though (and disappointing) is a reluctance to have a candid conversation about the decline of vocations and what we might do about it.


CARLY RAE JEPSEN

Read more:
1 Billion hits for “Call Me Maybe”? How about 1 billion vocations for “Convent Maybe”

Some folks take the decline in priestly and religious vocations as a sign of progress, e.g., “It’s okay—it’s the Church of the Laity now!” But how can there be a Church without sacraments, and how can there be a Church without visibly consecrated persons?

Some folks take the decline in vocations as natural (“It’s the Grace of Diminishment!”) and irreversible (“It’s the Grace of Completion—death is part of life!”). These same folks seem to have little to say about the religious communities whose “vocation crisis” is that they don’t have enough room to house their novices and postulants—in other words, they’re growing! And these same folks seem unwilling to discuss how dioceses with few or no seminarians differ from dioceses that are attracting seminarians.

Why the calm resignation regarding decline and the studied silence regarding growth? One could only speculate.

What is certain is that vocations to priestly and consecrated life do not come out of nowhere. Friends and students have said to me, “Father, it seems that you actually had a life before you became a Jesuit!” Yes, it is true: I was not found by the side of the road labelled, “JESUIT INSIDE: ADD WATER AND STIR!” Before I became a Jesuit, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on commitment, and I dedicated that work to my parents as my first and best teachers on commitment. My father and mother were married 53 years, dying just four months apart from each other—and I dearly wish I could more closely replicate in my own life their devotion.

My point is this: While there are many reasons for the decline in vocations to the priesthood and religious life (especially in the West) in the past 50 or so years, a prime reason has to be the decline in marriage and family life. As marriages and families fractured, the structures and witnesses to persistence, prayer and sacrifice were often removed from the lives of children. The means of handing on the faith—both its form and content—were withdrawn from millions of homes and from the lives of many millions of children. What did we think would happen next?

If we want to promote vocations to the priesthood and to consecrated life, we have to look to the dioceses and communities that are thriving. I suspect that what will be found common to them will be sharp clarity about fidelity, identity and mission. Likewise, I think that if we want to promote vocations, we should talk to the folks who entered in recent years, and are living their lives peacefully and fruitfully. I suspect that what will be common among them is (now) uncommon (but formerly common) family life—a life with Mom and Dad and grandparents and siblings and sacraments and prayer. And I strongly suspect that among these young and happy religious will be found stories about education that are not typical—including a commitment to excellence, virtue and tradition.

There is no quick fix to the dearth of vocations in the West. It can only happen over time, with a clear sense of purpose, and a confident reliance on God’s grace. If you want to build a fire, you have to start by gathering kindling. For us, here and now, I think that must include supporting newly married couples in their efforts to found truly Catholic homes and families. It must also include helping young people prepare for truly Catholic and sacramental marriage. And it must include credible witnesses among priests and religious life, who, as loved sinners, choose to love Christ above all and love all for Christ.

When I write next, I will speak of the various lessons about prayer that we can learn from Our Blessed Mother. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.


YOUTH WITH POPE FRANCIS

Read more:
Youth might not know what a synod is, but they’re shaping one

Tags:
FamilyVocations
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
LUXOR FILM FESTIVAL
Zoe Romanowsky
20-year-old filmmaker wins award for powerful...
Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, East London Gospel Choir
J-P Mauro
Hear Clapton and Pavarotti sing a prayer to t...
FIRST CENTURY HOUSE AT THE SISTERS OF NAZARETH SITE
John Burger
British archaeologist confident he has found ...
PRAY
Cerith Gardiner
12 Things we can be grateful for this Thanksg...
EARTHQUAKE
Bret Thoman, OFS
Two earthquakes couldn't stop these Italian n...
CATHEDRAL OF THE SACRED HEART
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
6 Questions to determine if your heart is har...
VATICAN POPE GOOD FRIDAY COLOSSEUM
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Learn to pray with the early Church and to di...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.