It has been good and heartening to read various reports in the Catholic media in Ireland this past week or so of the entrance of 22 new seminarians to the National Seminary in Maynooth, Co. Kildare (pictured above). This number is very much in line with the intake of new entrants to the seminary over the past three years.
Figures for new entrants to religious orders in Ireland in 2008 are being compiled at present and a clearer picture will emerge over the coming weeks. Anecdotal evidence suggests that numbers joining religious orders in Ireland (male and female) are on the rise. This is good news indeed.
However, vocations and new entrants to seminary and religious life is not about numbers. At least, it ought not to be. At this time of year when new membership is a hot topic, I cannot but think of the vital role of vocational discernment in the process of entry to seminary and religious life. I believe it is something that we take for granted. It is often presumed that a vocations director will do that job. My experience is that this is not always the case, and that the preparation of candidates for entry can often be haphazard. I hold the opinion that there should be norms laid down for all dioceses and religious orders and institutes in relation to following a recognised plan of vocational discernment. If this were implemented and followed, the Irish church could be assured that a standard procedure of discernment for admission is used. It would also raise the standards for acceptable vocational accompaniment.