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Religious Vocations: Value, Support, Recruit

Who will resolve the dilemma of dwindling vocations to the priesthood,
diaconate and religious life if not the people who have been well served in the past? On all fronts, the Church needs to get busy.

This month in Montreal, over a thousand people will gather to consider how to identify, discern, nurture, welcome and promote religious vocations. The Third Continental Congress on Vocations concludes on April 21, World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Amen isn't enough of a response. The situation calls for action.

Value the Contributions

Many of us come from an era in the Church when many parishes had two or more priests and a school staffed by women religious. Nowadays, laity, responding to the challenges of Vatican II, actively participate in the ministries of the Church in diverse ways they once thought off-limits. This is good.

We don't want to go back to "Sister said" or "Let's ask Father." Lay Catholics have staked an active claim in the Church of the United States, and the entire Church is the better for it.

This does not mean that Catholics here and throughout the Church no longer benefit—in ways both tangible and incalculable—from the presence of women and men religious and ordained clergy. The consecrated life and the Sacrament of Holy Orders are a grace not only to those who embrace them but also to everyone included in the prayer of contemplatives and touched by the ministries of many others.

The call to religious life has the weight of venerable tradition behind it. It also serves as a challenge to the rest of us—Catholic or not—to look beyond acquisition, independence and nuclear family-building to the values of simplicity, shared decisionmaking and global consciousness.

Support the Stalwart

It's a matter of balance. Some are called to be "singletons" (though more reputable than Bridget Jones, who popularized the term); others to be spouses and parents. Publicly embracing a celibate life lived for others is less popular, but surely an alternative choice encouraged by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you have been encouraged in your own spiritual growth from those vowed and/or ordained to ministry, then you need to support priestly ministers and vowed religious in your turn.

How? Express your gratitude to your pastor, to your deacon, to sisters and brothers in your parish or in your diocese. Do this in writing. Do this in public.

Don't you think priests and religious are weighed down—as you are—by scandals, by reduced numbers, by the prospect of futures less secure than even they anticipated? You can encourage them, even as they contribute to your spiritual strength and well-being.

Join Serra International or the Knights of Columbus in their considerable efforts to nurture Church vocations. Read and distribute print materials such as "A Good Fit for You? Life as a Priest, Brother or Sister" in our sister publication, Youth Update, or "Vocations: How Is God Calling Me?" in Catholic Update.

Recruit Successors

You love your children. You want grandchildren. But you have shared in the vitality brought to the Church by missionaries, contemplatives, pastoral ministers and those retired from years of doing the works of mercy and more. How will such blessings continue?

Enlarge your heart to embrace the potential "children" of your son's or daughter's parish, school, hospital, mission or other ministry. Or are you afraid of having too many grandchildren?

If you are ill-acquainted with any priests or religious, you can remedy that situation. "Adopt" a retired religious, a missionary or a seminarian. Visit a motherhouse and take your family with you. Large institutions can look formidable, but those within are generally warm and welcoming.

In your home and in your workplace, speak well of consecrated and ordained life. If you were scarred in your past by a strict disciplinarian in the classroom or a scolding in the confessional, pray to forgive and let go. And, when you're tempted to tell of your travails, reconsider—or at least add another equally true tale of gentle compassion and consolation or of life skills nurtured and honed by a dedicated teacher. That's only fair.

Encourage your children—and young adults in your circle of friends—to consider the many options that lie before them. These include not only sacramental marriage but also sacramental priesthood, the diaconate and the consecrated life. The Web offers a calm and deliberate way to research the possibilities. Many diocesan Web sites include informative, inviting pages on priestly vocations.

Readers considering a life direction—for the first time or as they arrive at a new crossroad—should allow the possibility of a religious vocation to enter and be entertained in their own hearts. Most religious orders and congregations provide for some type of affiliation with the works and prayers of their members. They mean it.

Many religious congregations do need to increase the volume and frequency of their invitations and to be present on the Internet in interactive settings that attract and encourage earnest seekers.

If President George W. Bush can challenge us to give to our nation in a time of trial and testing, all the more should we ourselves encourage generous gifts of the spirit that will enhance both the nation and the world.                                                                                            —C.A.M.  


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