03 November 2006

Thoughts about vocations

I’ve been thinking about vocations a lot lately. My province—Province of St Martin de Porres—is having a vocations weekend at the priory on Nov 10-12th. I’ve invited several young men from the university to attend and most of them have accepted. We’re expecting between 10 and 12 retreatants.

I wanted to suggest the following about vocations:

1). There is no vocations crisis. God is calling more than enough men to the priesthood to cover the needs of the Church. The real crisis is twofold: a). crisis of commitment and b). crisis of encouragement. The crisis of commitment is the result of the reluctance of the men who are called to say YES to their call. Most men called to priesthood are opting for careers that will only partially perfect their gifts. They can be happy, of course, but they are not picking up the greater challenge of sacrificial service in the Church. The crisis of encouragement is more complex. Basically, mothers and fathers are not supporting sons who express an interest in say YES to God’s call. This has to do with a decline in the prestige of the priesthood and the easier availability of a formal education for lower and middle-class men. We also have to look to the bishops, their vocation directors, and their discernment and vetting processes. Do the people the bishop trusts to recruit and vet his vocations really believe that an ordained priesthood is necessary for the flourishing of the Church? Is there a culture of priestly community in the diocese? Are the priests happy and encouraging of vocations? Bottomline: no sensible young man with a vocation is remotely interested in signing on to a religious order or a diocese if it is clear that those in charge think his vocation to ordained ministry is an ideological problem, a theological inconvenience, or a political obstacle to the Great Lay Revolution. And no young man is remotely interested in joining an order or a diocese controlled by bitter, angry ideologues who loudly and proudly celebrate the coming demise of the priesthood. Who wants to jump on a failing project as it sinks under the weight of its stewards’ neglect?

2). If we have all the vocations we need, but those vocations aren’t saying YES, what do we need to do? First, give God constant thanks for the vocations He has called. Gratitude sets the stage for humility and the current crisis in commitment and encouragement needs all the humility it can get. Second, pray that God will encourage (literally, “strengthen the hearts of”) those whom He has called. Pray that they will say YES. Third, personally, one-on-one invite a young man to think about priesthood. If there’s any inkling in his mind that he has been called, your affirmation will reinforce that inkling into a stirring and the stirring into a desire and so on. Fourth, make sure that you understand who your priest is. I mean, study up on the nature of the priesthood. Get the Catechism and spend some time studying what the Church teaches about priesthood. Ignore functional models of priesthood (i.e., the priesthood is a job or a role) and ignore attempts to turn the Catholic priest into a Protestant minister (i.e., a minister of the Word in the pulpit but not a priest at the altar of sacrifice!). Also avoid all attempts to understand that priesthood is rooted in baptism only. We all minister to one another out of our baptisms. But the ordained priest ministers out of his baptism AND out of his ordination. To say that he ministers as a priest out of his baptism only is an attempt by some to diminish the sacramental character of Holy Orders and reduce the priesthood to something like a Parochial Facilitator of Charisms. One more thing to avoid: please don’t lump a vocation to the priesthood in with vocations to the married life, the single life, ad. nau. Of course, these vocations are perfectly true and good and beautiful. But we aren’t suffering as a Church from a lack of husbands and single women. Lumping priestly vocations in with all other Christian vocations tends to level the priestly vocation and hides the urgency of the crisises of commitment and encouragement. This is NOT about the priestly vocation being “better” than any other vocation. It is about the Church being loud and clear that we need priests and that we value the vocation for itself and not as a tacked-on afterthought during the prayers of the people.

Those called to priesthood will not be encouraged to say YES to their call until it is crystal clear to them that we need them. Communion Services and other forms of “celebrations in the absence of a priest” only serve to reinforce the idea that a priest for Mass is a luxury. Given all the other negatives about the priesthood these days, do we really need to carry on with our Sunday worship as if the priest were a rare creature slowly moving into extinction? I imagine a young man in the pews at St. Bubba’s, attending a month or two’s worth of Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest and thinking, “Hey, I don’t need to say YES to God’s call to priesthood. We’re getting along just fine here at St. Bubba’s w/o one.” In fact, why don’t we just elect one bishop somewhere in Kansas to consecrate several warehouses of hosts every week and then use FedEx to ship those hosts to all the parishes in the country for communion services. That way we can get rid of the priesthood and the episcopate altogether. Much cheaper and easier than educating men to be parish priests. Well, I guess we would have to keep one priest and one seminarian in the pipeline at all times as replacements.


  1. Awesome, awesome post. I am going to have to link this on my blog--you say it all. Although, I have to admit...I've never heard of the idea of the priesthood rooted in baptism nonsense you're referring to.

    I am soon to begin an MA program in Catholic Studies, God willing, and one fear I have is losing my faith in the face of all the disurption of the "Lay Revolution" you so succinctly cite. I plan to study hard...and pray for the virtue of charity if I am placed in such an arena. How do you handle it? How does any faithful Catholic, lay or religious or clerical, continue to stand up in today's culture of dissent?

  2. Anonymous7:28 AM

    Dear Fr. Philip,

    You have wonderful thoughts...things I have ruminated over in my few years as a religious.

    An interesting statistic: Brazil, Phillippines, and Mexico have the top three largest Catholic populations in the world. The US is fourth. Yet, the US has more vocations than the top three combined. At least, that is the number of priests; I can't speak to unordained religious.

    And if you wouldn't mind keeping us in your prayers that weekend.....I will keep you in mine. We've a fomration weekend in San Antonio then.

    To AdoroTeDevote, I would recommend prayer and fasting.

  3. Anonymous8:14 AM

    Parochial Facilitator of Charisms

    Ha ha ha ha ha

  4. Anonymous12:14 PM

    If the "disaffected" laity is unable to increase their role in the mass, they satisfy themselves with minimizing the role of the priest.

    Two things need to happen.

    1. Bishops need to crack down on cutesy local ceremonies like gathering the EMEs in the sanctuary during the fractioning rite which blur the lines beween the priest (in persona Christi) and the laity.

    2. Good men in the parish need to publicly back their parish priest against the onslought of the "faith community".

    I would make altar rails mandatory and enforce the requirements of who is able to cross them and for what purpose.

    The Catholic church doesn't have a crisis of vocations, those liberal diocese who don't respect their priests do.

    Maybe they need to send missionaries from Africa to the US to teach us how to be Catholic :)

  5. Anonymous8:52 PM

    Great post and good comments! I will be linking you to my blog and sending my own pastor a link to this post. Thanks for putting it in black and white!

  6. Anonymous8:57 PM

    Tony has a very good point about the EMHCs being in the sanctuary during the fractioning rite.

    Father Powell, could you post something on that? Could you tell me where this is specifically prohibited? I would love to get rid of this in our parish. UGH.

  7. Anonymous12:19 AM

    Please allow me to share with you two 9 min. video-clips, posted by someone to YouTube.com, which demonstrate the living reality of God's call to men for them to live in radical conformity to the Gospel in a free embrace of the evangelical counsels:

    Unto The Least

    Called By God

    "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me ... Whenever you did this to the least of my brethren, you did it to Me." (Matthew 25:35,40)

  8. One thing I need to comment on...it's not just MEN who have to stand in defense of the priesthood, but it's WOMEN. Unfortunately, I've been to far too many parishes which hold women (liturgists, DRE'S, etc.) in positious over that of the priest in authority, and amazing how those parishes have..uh...lost their way. So since women seem to be leading the downfall, it is also we women who need to stand up and redirect worship to God as opposed to feminist ideals.

    We also need more strong and faithful men...it seems that the feminists have succeed in competely cowing most of the men...can't offend women, oh no! Let's do more to help men realize that being Godly is far more manly than cowtowing to a bunch of misguided agendaists, and we faithful women need to stand in solidarity to God's order with Mary as our example.

    There, that's the end of my grammaticall-incorrect rant.

  9. Angela,

    Good luck with that...getting rid of EMHC's in the sanctuary. We don't have this problem at UD. In fact, I have the exact opposite problem....my students act as though there is a moat full of gators btw them and the first step of the sanctuary. Half the time I can't get them to serve as EMHC's b/c they aren't holy enough. The GIRM pretty clear about the proper timing and movement of the EM's. My guess is that your EM's are just poorly trained. Of course, a new pastor might change things but this is often seen as "Father doing it his way" rather than "doing things the right way." My unwanted advice: don't sweat it. I mean, ask yourself the question my student master used to ask me all the time: "Philip, is this the hill you wanna die on?"

    Fr. Philip

  10. Anonymous1:19 AM

    Here we are 13 months later and this is still an issue in the parish and I am still not sure it's the hill I want to die on LOL!!!