The most recent edition of the 'Irish Catholic' (Ireland's weekly Catholic newspaper) carried an editorial on the need to urgently talk about vocations. The editor, Michael Kelly, is hoping to stimulate a conversation about the topic and will next week explore how a culture of vocations can be created in Ireland. Below, in italics, is the opening contribution on the issue. I find myself in total agreement with his analysis and he reiterates many of the concerns that I have held for some time now. I look forward to the next instalment on this question and hope that it will engage those concerned with vocations promotion to respond and react.
Every time I write about the urgent task of promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life I get a two-fold response. Many readers - laypeople, priests and religious - get in touch saying they are delighted that I am raising the issue. On the other hand - I get correspondence - sometimes from those involved in vocations ministry - saying I have no idea how difficult their job is.
Let me begin by making it clear that I don't want in any way to discourage those involved in vocations ministry - on the contrary.
Pope Francis said recently that a lack of vocations is 'often due to a lack of contagious apostolic fervour'. I have a very strong sense that many people within the Church are not taking the vocations crisis seriously. Despite the sincere efforts of many, there are many others who give little or no thought to promoting vocations. We hear platitudes that it's about quality and not quantity.
Message from God
Or, it suits some people to say that we have to see a message from God in the ever-declining numbers. I sadly meet some priests and religious who are hostile to new vocations because they hope the decline will lead to a crisis that will force the Church to adopt his or her particular vision of ecclesial or ecclesiastical reform. Other people are even unwilling to use the term 'vocations'. They prefer 'vocation' and like to talk vaguely about every single person having a vocation.
Vocations Sunday - which we just celebrated - is a day dedicated to vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
There is no vocation to the single life per se. One is either single and free to marry or one is not single and free to marry. It is a logical absurdity to say that one can be called to what one is; nor is there a vocation to marriage - not, at least, in the sense of a supernatural vocation. Marriage is man's natural state. Some people are called to forego the natural state in view of the Gospel and the Kingdom. Others are not.
Too many priests and religious tread on egg-shells around laypeople as if any mention of priesthood and religious life will be taken as a slight to the lay vocation, or that laypeople are ubersensitive to a sense of feeling excluded by talk of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. This has not been my experience. In fact, it has often been a confusion among priests and religious about their identity that leads to confusion among laypeople.
Vocations' directors should not be afraid to promote the specificity of priesthood and religious life in their ministry. Presenting priesthood and religious life as a community worker or convenor isn't very attractive. It can also serve to demoralise those who are currently in ministry. If a young person feels called to be a social worker, a community organiser or a convenor they can earn a lot more money doing this in the secular sphere than in religious life!
The work of promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life is a challenging, even a daunting role. Vocations directors and promoters are at the forefront of trying to promote a call in a culture and a society that is often deaf to the idea of the supernatural and a culture that finds it increasingly difficult to contemplate a life-encompassing commitment. And yet, the work of promoting a culture of vocations in our dioceses and religious orders, congregations and missionary societies is vital in the true sense of that word - essential for the life of the Church. And if we believe the life of the Church, the Christian life, is vital for the flourishing of healthy, just and meaningful society then this work is vital for Ireland as we grapple to overcome a sense of dazed reality in the wake of the collapse of an economic and moral model that was built on sand.