Today, I will be giving a presentation to a meeting of diocesan clergy on the theme of vocations and creating a culture where vocations can be nurtured. The text below will introduce the theme of the talk and I will post the remainder of the contribution on this blog in the coming days.
There is a good bit of talk in our Church and in the secular media about a “Vocations Crisis”. There are growing numbers of Catholics and shrinking numbers of brothers, sisters, and priests. The reality of these numbers is true and it is a cause for concern, yet the reality of the crisis is not always well represented. The crisis is not that there are no vocations to the priesthood and religious life today, the crisis is that the vocations to the priesthood and religious life are not being nurtured and encouraged as well as they could be. The crisis is not just one of numbers; it is a crisis of culture. There are many who are being called, yet for a young person today it can be very daunting to acknowledge such a thing and pursue it.
The task of many who are working in the arena of vocation promotion is to help build up a “Culture of Vocations”. This is the work of encouraging all young and not so young Catholics to remain open to the possibility that they are called. It is also the work of encouraging all Catholics to invite and encourage those in whom they see a potential vocation to consider the religious life or priesthood. There are aspects of our popular culture that promote values and ideals that dissuade anyone who might consider getting actively involved in the Church, much less give their life to service of the Church. Such forces create an environment that causes young people to think that the religious life or priesthood will ask too much of them or will have them miss out on what normal people should experience. This then leads young people who have thought about the religious life or the priesthood to hesitate or avoid the reality that they may be called.
The good news is that much work has been done to begin to create a culture of vocations to point to the transcendent and profound good that comes to the individual and the world when an individual embraces his/her vocation. Some dioceses and parishes and colleges are developing vocation programs or youth programs to encourage young people in their faith, helping them to realize that a relationship with Christ is a beautiful and powerful thing that is worth developing despite what the popular culture may say. Parents and peers are opening up to the reality that their child or friend may have a vocation and support them in it. There is a growing sense that when an individual is called, it is not something strange or oddly different, but quite natural and fulfilling for that individual. This growing culture that is open to religious and priestly vocations is helping to create an environment in which young people can feel comfortable in acknowledging that they may have a vocation and will support them in their desire to find out if Christ is truly calling them to follow Him. Where this subtle shift in culture is happening there is a discernible growth in young people stepping forward to acknowledge their sense of call and pursue it. Part of the work to be done then is to continue to build up this culture of vocations, this culture that encourages all people to pursue their relationship with Christ and encourages individuals to remain open to the call to the religious life and priesthood. There is also work to be done on the part of religious communities and dioceses to encourage this cultural shift, share the joy and fulfillment that is to found in the consecrated life, and to provide solid and inviting programs for discernment and formation.