The upcoming 'Year of Vocation' is obviously exercising the minds of editors of some Catholic magazines and publications in Ireland. This weekend I noticed two articles of interest - and both with very different takes on 'vocation'.
The first was in Reality, the excellent publication of the Irish Redemptorists. The article entitled 'Empty seminaries and the future of priesthood' is by Tony Flannery CSsR. In the article he refers to the comments of a the newly appointed bishop of Ossory about the bishop's desire to attract vocations - and particularly to remind the Christian community in the diocese that it is their duty to nourish priestly vocations. Fr. Flannery doesn't have any great confidence that the bishop will succeed. The article centres on a conversation the author had recently with a group of about 30 people. In asking them about the rapid decline of clergy numbers and the problem this creates for ministry in the Irish church, the group did not think that priesthood was a good career choice because of a number of issues. (1) Fear of life-long commitment. (2) The Church's inability to adapt to modern times. (3) Compulsory celibacy. (4) The exclusion of women from the priesthood and (5) while not explicitly stated, the scandals within the Irish church in recent times.
In the end, I wasn't sure who was the real author of the article. Was it the 30 people or Fr. Flannery? That apart, I was left wondering whether the central issue of vocation was touched on at all - namely, that vocation is a divine call given to all the people of God, but in a particular way to some whom the Lord chooses to work as priests, brothers, nuns, sisters in a consecrated fashion.
The second article was in The Word - another excellent periodical published by the Divine Word Missionaries. Entitled 'A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats' and written by Sarah MacDonald, the article centred on the work of Andrew O' Connell, the Communications Director of the Presentation Brothers in Ireland. Andrew explains his guiding philisophy as the message of John Paul II: 'Let no one, on account of our negligence, lose the beautiful gift of their vocation.' In upbeat terms, the article singles out a number of reasons why vocation to religious life is a real alternative by(1) Opening the doors of religious communities to young people to invite them in and de-mystify the notions people have. (2) Presenting vocation as a real and credible option. (3) Have people work full time on vocation (the real secret!). (4) Use human and financial resources to promote. (5) The importance of personal invitation. (6) God!
Andrew also, rightly, cites other issues of real concern, particularly the lopsided theological notion that the fall off in vocations is attributable to the work of the Holy Spirit and that we should accept this and get on with it. He sees the 'vocation crisis' as the effect of aggressive secularism, post-modern confusion and the inability of the Church in Ireland to come to terms with these realities.
Both articles mentioned are important as part of the dialogue we need around new membership to our way of life. But for realism and hope, it's the artcle in The Word - by a mile!!