Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Some thoughts on vocations.

Growing up in Southeastern Massachusetts, I never gave any thought to a priestly or religious vocation. Though I believe that God acts in each of our lives according to his own particular and inscrutable timetable, I'll also acknowledge the influence of geography and life experience. Before I encountered the Jesuits at Georgetown, the only priests I had known were members of the diocesan clergy engaged in parochial ministry. Having attended public schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade - a distinction of which I am very proud, by the way - I had never met a nun and had only a vague notion of the existence and function of religious orders. The idea that priests could be university professors and engage in many forms of work outside of parish ministry was a great revelation to me. Significantly, it wasn't until I discovered that there was more to priesthood than working in parishes that I began to think about a religious vocation.

In light of my own experience, I've wondered how many young men there are who could be called to religious life but haven't considered the option because they simply haven't had the kind of personal encounters with priests or religious that would open them to the possibility. Even with the plethora of information on different religious communities that is available on the Internet, I suspect there are many who wouldn't even be moved to consider vocation resources online without some kind of initial in-person encounter with a priest or religious who shattered their preconceived notions about religious life.

Most Catholics encounter the Church in exactly one place: their local parish. The only priests that many young Catholics have met are the priests who work in their parishes. If the only priest a young man ever meets is his pastor, he'll likely assume that the only thing priests do is staff parishes. If he doesn't feel called to parish work, a young man in such a situation probably won't consider a vocation to the priesthood even if he has an inchoate sense that God is calling him to something "more."

Even at the parish level, personal invitation can play a crucial role in leading young men to consider a vocation to the priesthood. It wasn't until a Jesuit asked me if I'd ever thought about entering the Society that I began to seriously entertain the idea. I've rarely met diocesan priests who extended similar invitations, and those who have tend to be concerned with recruiting for diocesan seminaries. On the contrary, most of the diocesan priests I've known never issued a direct or personal appeal to young men to consider the priesthood but would instead speak generically from the pulpit of the declining number of clergy and urge all of us to pray for an increase in vocations. This is all well and good, but it's also not enough. Vocations ultimately come from God alone, but many are unable to hear God's voice until God speaks to them through other people.

Many readers of this blog may be wondering what exactly they can do to remedy some of the problems discussed above. Certainly, you can't do much about the fact that most young Catholics have never met a priest or religious outside a parish setting. However, there is a lot that concerned laypeople can do to promote vocations to the priesthood and to religious life. If you know young people who you believe would make good priests or religious, tell them so (and tell them why you believe they might have a vocation - you might have perceived qualities in them that they didn't know they had). If there are religious communities present in your area, try to get some of their members to come to the parish to speak about their lives and the work that they do. Vocation promotion is hard work, but there are a lot of people who can do it. It is important to pray for vocations, but as you do so you should also ask yourself: what am I doing to help ensure that what I pray for becomes a reality? AMDG.

2 Comments:

At 10/23/2008 8:58 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

This brought to mind the day my 14 year old son asked me what it took to become an Augustinian (I pray with the local community every morning). Why? He knows them well, not in the abstract, but as persons. (He also knows several wonderful Jesuits...not to worry!)

 
At 10/26/2008 5:18 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Michelle,

Now that's the kind of contact with religious that I wish I had when I was a teenager. Since the first religious I ever really knew were Jesuits, I think I subconsciously made the Society the standard by which I measured other orders; if I had experience of other orders as well, I wonder how my perspective would have been different.

 

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