Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In which I Rant about Vocations and End on a Positive Note

I have long held that the Church does not face a "vocations crisis." It is true that there are fewer priests now than there were fifty years ago. There are fewer sisters as well. What is not so clear to me, though, is that fewer men are being called. I think that a whole multitude of men are called to the priesthood, but they are not hearing that call, some by design and others by accident of their environment. I have talked to young men who KNOW that they are being called to the seminary, but who refuse to go. They have all sorts of creative excuses. Here is a sampling:

1) Well, I might have a vocation, but I am still discerning whether or not to go to the seminary, so I will just go to college for a few years until I figure it out.

To which I respond (inaudibly, of course), "Good luck. That gnawing pain in your stomach every time you think about priesthood isn't going to go away until you go to the seminary. Enjoy your ulcer."

2) I'm called to the married life.

Really? To whom do you intend to be wed? A call to marriage is a call to lifelong union with a specific other. Who is that lucky lady? At best he can say, "I am not called to the priesthood," but to know that requires that one actually first consider that one is called to the priesthood.

3) I am not worthy to be a priest.

Neither am I. And I never will be. I don't know why God calls who he calls. "It is not you who chose me, but I who chose you." (John 15:16)

4) I think it would get too redundant for me.

Redundant like going home to the same wife in the same house with the same kids and the same ugly couch every day for sixty years? Or redundant like working at a job you don't especially enjoy because the benefits are good, the job is secure, and you will be able to put your kids through college? At the very least, the priest changes assignments every six years or so. And there is nothing redundant about the adventure to which Jesus invites us when he invites us to draw close to himself.

Other young men give me much more compelling answers.

1) I'm afraid. I don't think I can do it.

Well, alone you can't do it. But, "I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me" (Phil 4:3). Do you really suppose he would call you to this and leave you ill equipped to do the job he sets before you? "Cast out into the deep" (Luke 5:4).

2) I want to be a father.

Good! So do I. So should all men. We are all called to fatherhood. It is a question of how we are called to fulfill this vocation to be caretakers, spiritual leaders, and heads of a family. Priesthood is not exclusive of fatherhood. It is fatherhood lived differently.

Indeed, there are a whole variety of excuses, and after you have talked to a certain number of young men, they can begin to get discouraging. So, it is always a great relief when some asks something like, "Hey, Deacon Tyler, were you serious when you told me that you thought I should think about the seminary?" You're darned tootin' I was. When I get a response like that, it typically indicates that this fellow has already been mulling the idea over in his own mind, and is a bit taken aback to hear someone else verbalize his own thoughts to him. In this case, I am always quick to assure him that no one is asking for a lifetime commitment immediately. Just talking out loud about the idea will not prompt the Bishop to lay hands on him the following day. He need not panic. There is lots of time to figure out if the call is authentic. Feel free to call me or ask me about anything. Here is the phone number for the director of vocations.

World Youth Day allowed me to have experiences of both sorts, the encouraging and the discouraging. I suspect that at least one of these young men will be off to the seminary in the fall of 2009. Another may stop going to Church altogether because he is so afraid of the prospect. Nevertheless, to have talked to them was worthwhile. As I mentiond, many young men are trying hard not to hear the call. If someone speaks to them, it is hard to ignore it. Likewise, other young men may not know how to hear the call, and will not until someone speaks to them and suggests that they consider priesthood. So, here are my suggestions for ways that you can help them hear, dear readers.

1) Pray for vocations every day.

2) Look around your parish (the boy servers are a good place to start). If you sense that a particular young man (of any age) might make a good priest, tell him so.

3) Let your sons know that you are open to the idea of them pursuing a vocation to the priesthood. This is especially important for fathers. Your son is unlikely to consider priesthood unless he knows that his dad is going to support the idea.

4) Talk positively about vocations to the priesthood and your own priest(s).

5) Don't be afraid to ask young men if they have thought about entering the priesthood. If you notice something special about them, chances are, they are hearing it too and are doing their best to ignore it. Help them hear. Be persistent, but don't nag. Statistics suggest that a young man needs to be asked at least six times before he will even consider going to visit the seminary. Don't be afraid to say something more than once even though he tries to rebuff you at first.

There is no vocations crisis. There are lots of vocations around. We all have a role to play in helping men realize it.


Anonymous said...

Great post. It's so amazing to me how there can be such negativity out there about the priesthood, especially within the Church. I want a bumper sticker that says "We love our priests!"

Jinglebob said...

Great post!

Adoro te Devote said...

What you said here applies to women, too. (Except for the "I wanna be a Father" thing!) :-P

Very timely post as I came to a decision today.

J. Thorp said...

Great post, Tyler -- I especially relate to the part about being encouraging. My mother admitted to feeling startled and sad when seven-year-old Gabe said he might want to be a priest, because he's such a loving kid she thinks he'll be a great husband and dad, and hopes to live to see it. But A) he's only seven! and B) wouldn't it be sad if his elders talked him out of it simply by being unenthused about the prospect?

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