Hopefully I don’t crawl too high on top of the proverbial soap box, but I had a moment the other day that got under my skin and I need to get this out there. I would love to have a conversation about this so please comment below or on social media in with your experience and understanding.
Vocations ≠ Priesthood
We used to live in a Church where there was an over-emphasis on the priesthood. To have a vocation went hand in hand with being called to the priesthood. Sisters or nuns were also seen as having a vocation, but on a lesser scale. Then, Second Vatican Council happened and the word “vocation” was given new life. Lumen Gentium explains:
32. By divine institution Holy Church is ordered and governed with a wonderful diversity. “For just as in one body we have many members, yet all the members have not the same function, so we, the many, are one body in Christ, but severally members one of another”.(191) Therefore, the chosen People of God is one: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”(192); sharing a common dignity as members from their regeneration in Christ, having the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection; possessing in common one salvation, one hope and one undivided charity. There is, therefore, in Christ and in the Church no inequality on the basis of race or nationality, social condition or sex, because “there is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all ‘one’ in Christ Jesus”.(193)
The bold is mine. This is saying that each and every baptized person has a vocation. The first for foremost vocation is as Lumen Gentium states, to perfection. Another way to say this is that each person is called to holiness, called to sanctity. Yes, you, you and even you are called to be a Saint.
The path through which our training in holiness lies is unique. In Church terms, there are generally 2 – 3 broad paths. Religious Life (can be delineated into Priest and Religious Vows like brothers, sisters, nuns, and permanent deacons) and the laity (married or single). We can say that each person’s work is also a form of vocation, since we are called to holiness in all aspects of our life. If we use our work, whatever it may be, to bring God greater glory and to evangelize to our fellow co-workers and those we serve, then our work is sanctified and vocational.
I have noticed in the Church, at least in the American Church, a subtle rise in focus on the call to priesthood. This ties into the priest shortage we feel we are experiencing as parishes consolidate and in some areas of the country the priest-to-parishioner ratio is genuinely out of sync. How many of us pray for an increase in vocations during the Prayers of the Faithful during Mass?
To illustrate this point, here is what happened one morning at our Vacation Bible School. We are fortunate to have two seminarians from San Antonio working in Del Rio this summer. They have been helping with VBS and assisted during Mass. After Mass, they spoke about their experience and how God is calling them to the priesthood. Our director spoke afterward. Instead of inspiring all of the kids to think on their vocation, or exploring how God is calling each of them in the here and now, we focused on whether any of the boys thought they might be priests someday.
I was let down and felt frustrated for the girls in the room. And the boys too. We are not going to fix the priest crisis as some see it by trying to convince 5 and 6 year olds once a year that priests are cool. And we no longer live in a world where the 2nd son is automatically placed in seminary. So what’s left?
A whole lot!! Friends, I firmly believe we are NOT suffering from a vocational crisis. God has not stopped calling people, men and women alike, to religious service. But we are suffering. We are experiencing a lack of vocational awareness. If we are not raising our children to hear God’s call for their life, how can we expect them to hear it? There’s a phrase – “You don’t know what you don’t know until someone tells you you don’t know it.” We can’t hope a young man is going to choose priestly service, or a young woman will choose a life of religious service, when these options have not been thoroughly explored, witnessed and reflected upon. And where does the exploration, the witness and the reflection happen in a person’s life?
In the context of their family and community.
Which do you think is more effective for showing our youth that priests are fun, normal, sometimes even cool people too?
Option 1: Only every seeing a priest within the context of Mass or formal function like VBS? The minimal amount of conversation happens between the family and the priest – usually the good bye as they leave church. Sometimes the priest stops by for a few minutes during the Religious Education class to see what the kids are learning.
Option 2: The family has invited the priest over for dinner or a family gathering. They have asked to have their home or car blessed. Children spend a few moments talking to the priest before or after their parents go to Confession. The family has volunteered to help clean up the church with the hospitality team.
I hope everyone said Option 2.
The over-emphasis on priestly vocations is not helping the situation we are facing. What will? In my opinion we need a stronger presence in and with our families. Vocations of every kind can be cultivated or shattered within the four walls of a family home. We should be focusing on supporting new parents, encouraging all families and making every effort to help grow the faith of the parents as well as their children.