Many people talk about the vocation crisis in the Catholic Church. However, little changes are made in the ministry of local parishes which foster vocational growth. People, in short, fear changes, even if they will bring positive results. It is easier to assume what we’ve been doing for many years is good enough and can’t actually be the root of the problem.
After hearing a visiting priest lament from the pulpit about our shortage of priestly vocations, I approached him and said that the solution was simple. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to hear what it was. This does reveal part of our problem: we spend a lot of time talking about how we don’t have enough vocations and spend not enough time acting to encourage them. Do we not have enough time to sit down, ponder the Church’s future and figure out how to best secure it?
Here is the simple, three pronged approach that I put forth for parishes to encourage growth of vocations:
1) Teach authentic Catholic doctrine.
The more people come to know the faith and God’s love, the more they will fall in love with God and the faith. Presenting a way of life that is contrary to the shallow world sparks resonance with people- especially young people who are faced with meaninglessness and relativism. Authentic doctrine is not watered-down. It is not a bunch of moral platitudes but putting forth the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in and out of season. We can’t be afraid to discuss the hard stuff, the reality of sin and of spiritual combat. Authentic Catholic teaching is what draws reverts and converts, who all have potential vocations. I have heard too many young adults complain that they are learning more on their own than in RCIA. They are hungering for the “meat and bones” but instead get fed spoonfuls of sugar. Beefing up our RCIA is a matter of investing in textbooks and teachers who are faithful to the Magisterium. renewing belief in the sacraments is a matter of encouraging their use. If the parish priest can, he might want to invest some extra time to hear confessions and teach on the meaning of this healing sacrament.
It is vital to reveal our faith as a life-changing reality- not just a path that is just as good as some other religion. The worst mistake we can make is to adopt a “I’m okay, you’re okay” attitude. This is precisely what the world drills into our head and it’s not what Christ preached. Christ preached a new way of live, turning your back on the world, rising towards union with God. Our faith has so many avenues of beautiful spiritualities: Franciscan. Benedictine, Dominican. Explore them rather then delving in what other religions practice. What Christ offers to us in the Catholic faith is the way, the truth and the life. People won’t believe in something trivial and they certainly won’t give their lives for it.
2.) Talk about vocations:
Priesthood, religious life, marriage. These don’t tend to be popular sermon topics, being overlooked for the sake of teaching the basics. Vocations are the basics- they hold the Church up! Without priests, we have no Eucharist. It can’t get more basic than that! How are people going to be interested if we never mention it? Priests and laypeople must work together to show how each of these vocations is so special. Lay people can make the mistake of viewing vocations as another career choice rather than a state of life in relation to God. Priests seldom speak from the pulpit about what inspired them to follow their calling- mentioning both the challenges and rewards of it. This all can be easily changed by raising awareness.
A best kept secret is that vocations are a sign on earth of the kingdom to come. Another best kept secret is the example of Mary. When Marian devotion declines, vocations decline. She, along with all the saints, has so much to tell us about living an authentic Catholic life. They lived life to the fullest and too often, their stories are hidden. Throughout history, saints have been inspired by reading the lives of other saints. Parish libraries that host helpful literature and books about the saints and vocations should be encouraged and if already existing, must be brought to attention. Young minds especially, are inspired by the saints.
Retreats for young people can also inspire them to think of vocations and get involved in ministry. They don’t have to be held at special retreat centers. Try church lock ins, best with a night of perpetual adoration. Some of this stuff may sound intensive so start off slow. Start maybe with adoration once a week. Foster”Eucharistic awareness” where devotion to the blessed sacrament is practiced, explained and encouraged. It is God who calls us to a vocation therefore we should offer maximum opportunities for parishioners of all ages to sit silently and hear his voice.
3) Reverence at Mass:
The Eucharist, which is the “source and summit of Christian life” (CCC 1324) is often treated with little reverence. We make the mistake of stripping away the Mass, getting rid of what we deem to be mere “externals” without realizing they were there for a reason: to engage us with the greater mystery. Then people forget the awesome reality of what is taking place at Mass and eventually walk away. It is incredibly vital for young men to witness the awe and majesty of the liturgy, to see it as something sacred and meaningful. This prompts them to serve the altar, and this is where priestly vocations are most encouraged.
Reverent Masses foster belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, while Masses that are treated like social gatherings or concerts, diminish it greatly. Chances are a man will not marry a woman he isn’t attracted to. If young men are not captivated by the beauty of the Mass, they will never become priests. The Church has a vast treasury of sacred music and moving traditions. Parishes should pull them out of the attic and put them to good use. This is why Vatican II encouraged the use of Gregorian chant (SC 6: 116). It provides a unique substance that people will return to time and time again. You can never go wrong by studying the documents of Vatican II, seeing what they actually called for and applying a principle of continuity to the Mass. Too many creative changes and rupture isn’t good for vocations and it isn’t good for anybody. The reason for such things may be to get people more involved in the Mass but what actually happens is confusion and overall loss of the Mass’s meaning. What people look for in such a time of chaos and emptiness is reverence and peace. It is like water to thirsting souls.