By REV. MSGR. JAMES A. CARTER
In this space over the past several weeks, I have addressed various aspects of the crisis we face in the Diocese of Charleston with the severe shortage of ordained priests. Priests around the diocese have preached on this crisis in conjunction with vocations week. Parish leaders are meeting often to develop plans for the future and they will make an initial report to Bishop Thompson by Ash Wednesday.
Diocesan leaders are hard at work on this crisis. What can the people in our parishes do? We must all ask ourselves this question: Have we prayed hard enough, and have we worked hard enough for vocations? We cannot simply fold our hands and leave it to God or “the diocese.” We must, however, pray as though everything depends upon God and work as though everything depends upon us.
First, and always, we must pray, as Christ taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.” What else can we do? Here are some ideas:
We must make our ministry to build up vocations central to the mission of the Church, which is to build up the kingdom of God.
We must accept this vocation ministry as our own and not leave it to the diocese, the priest or the vocations office.
Our vocation ministry will have two equally significant dimensions: baptismal vocation and the vocation to ordained priesthood and consecrated life.
We must appreciate and understand the unique role of the ordained priest. He is essentially different and has the 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. The existence of the ordained priest is not an option.
We must regain and nourish our sense of sacrament.
We need all the baptized to share fully in the life of their parishes. This participation provides the foundation, the ownership and the responsible stewardship for the life of the parish.
All members of our parishes, priests and lay, must agree to work together to recognize and call forth the gifts and talents in one another.
We must all accept and believe that through our baptism, we all share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
We must create a true culture of vocation in our parishes, a culture that will open our young people’s hearts to hear God’s special call to them.
We must work to improve our parishes as true communities, larger families for our parishioners. Our parishes must be places where our young people can learn the meaning and value of commitment.
As followers of Christ, we must build up the image of priesthood, rather than tear it down.
We are in critical times. The situation is complex. The answers are far from simple. Solutions are illusive. We are a people desperately searching for God in a world as envisioned by Edwin A. Robinson, “which is a kind of a spiritual kindergarten where millions of infants are trying to spell God with the wrong blocks.” Could it be the number of priests is not the critical issue? Could it be that we need to use ordained priests more effectively in conjunction with a more extensive use of the priesthood of the faithful? Could God’s spirit be directing us in new and different ways to find new and different solutions?
In the final analysis, we must make Jesus our foundation. We must follow his example. In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus taught us how to find vocations. As he walked and preached by the Sea of Galilee, where he had made his home, he invited local fishermen to “come follow me.” Jesus did not look to the temple in Jerusalem for the apostles. He looked in his hometown. So must we.
Msgr. James A. Carter is vicar general and vicar for priests for the Diocese of Charleston.