By REV. MSGR. JAMES A. CARTER
Do we really have a shortage of vocations to the priesthood? Or, rather, do we have a shortage of men able, for whatever reason, to answer God’s call to special service to the Church?
In an address to the National Conference of Catholic Bishop’s National Symposium on Vocations, Cardinal Pio Laghi, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, said that we must have the “firm conviction that the Lord continues to call (priests) in every church and in every place.”
If we believe that God will not leave us orphans, that he will provide leaders to help us build up his kingdom here in South Carolina, then, what is the problem? Perhaps an examination of conscience is in order. This examination may be painful. Facing our faults and sins usually is.
As parents, teachers and role models, do we promote in our young people the importance of pursuing a life of service instead of a career path? Do we teach by example? Do our children know the true meaning of the word “vocation”? Do we?
Have we reduced God to a private issue and made materialism our corporate God? According to a recent Associated Press article, 20 percent of the high income countries in our world account for 86 percent of the world’s consumption.
As parents, do we teach our children the importance of commitment? Do our children grow up knowing what a father is? In a recent survey when asked why they might hesitate to become a priest, sister or brother, Catholic youth listed “fear of commitment” in the top four reasons.
Do we give our children strong moral reference points? Do we teach them the importance of sacrifice and discipline? Or, do we teach them to expect instant gratification? Do we teach by example?
Many people grapple with a negative image of the church and of the priesthood. Do we promote this negativity in front of our children? Our fundamental vocation as followers of Christ exhorts us to build up rather than tear down, to be positive rather than negative.
Do we have a firm belief in the special sacramental nature of our faith? Are we convinced that the ordained priest is essentially different and has the unique responsibility of ordering the community, proclaiming the Word of God and bringing the presence of Christ to the community in a special way through the sacraments? (1)
Do we as priests, by the example of our lifestyles, encourage others to join us in ministry? Are we happy, healthy, fulfilled in our spiritual, physical, mental lives? Do we encourage others to consider a priestly vocation? Fifty-one percent of Catholic youth surveyed said they know a priest, sister or brother whom they especially admired, while only six percent said that a priest, sister or brother had encouraged them to consider a church vocation.
Do we understand the gift of celibacy? Priests “are celibate not to be able to put in more hours of work. Many married professionals do that. The only real motivation for celibacy is being faithful to the total imitation of Jesus Christ. Love is simply love. It cannot be explained. The why and where fore of celibate love for Christ is celibate love for Christ.” (2)
St. Therese of Lisieux, in Story of a Soul, wrote this about discovering her vocation:
Maybe we do not have a shortage of priestly vocations. Perhaps what we have is a critical shortage of love.
1. From the June 21, 1998, address Cardinal Pio Laghi gave to NCCB’s National Symposium on Vocations. Cardinal Laghi is the Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education.
2. From “Training Candidates for the Priesthood,” an address given by Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium to an international consultation of seminary rectors in Belgium on Aug. 25, 1998.
Msgr. Carter is Vicar General and Vicar for Priests for the Diocese of Charleston.