In the Catholic Church, today is “Good Shepherd Sunday” in reference to the Gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday of Easter in which Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” John 10:11. It is also World Day of Prayer for Vocations across the Church. I thought I would take a slight break from my usual thoughts on business and management and offer some thoughts on vocations through the lens of business.
It is no secret that there is a critical shortage of men responding to a vocation to the priesthood. While statistics for the Ordination Class of 2015 show an increase of 20% in ordinations compared to the Class of 2014, much growth is still needed to replace an aging presbyterate.
What then, can be done to promote a significant improvement in the number of men earnestly discerning a vocation to the priesthood? I suggest focusing on three factors: The Position of Fathers as the spiritual head of their families, recognizing and promoting the Universal Call to Holiness as the primary vocation of all people, appreciating the Voice of the People in discerning a vocation to the priesthood.
The Position of Fathers
In a June 2003 article in Touchstone Magazine titled The Truth About Men & Church, Robbie Lowe examines the impact of the church attendance of fathers and mothers on the church attendance of their adult children. While the entire article is well worth reading, he summarizes the effect of fathers, specifically, rather nicely:
In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). If a father goes but irregularly to church, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between a half and two-thirds of their offspring will find themselves coming to church regularly or occasionally.
Clearly, the importance of fathers as the spiritual head of their household cannot be undervalued. Even for the most devout of mothers, when paired with a father who does not go to church, only 2% of children will become regular worshipers.
It is unfortunate that many of today’s fathers belong to an entire generation that went under-catechized, if not un-catechized all together. Nevertheless, it is not their knowledge of the teachings of the Church, or even the quality of their own spirituality that counts here. Faithfully attending is what matters. It’s about having values, demonstrating the importance of those values, and making a valiant effort.
The Universal Call to Holiness
Having established the importance of the role of fathers as the spiritual head of their household, basic, fundamental catechesis at all age levels is necessary. If parents are to be the primary educators of their children, then they must be given the tools and equipment necessary to perform the task at hand. This includes the requisite training.
A primary focus of this catechesis effort, at all ages, must be focused on the Universal Call to Holiness as the primary vocation for all people. Too often, we focus on the academic study of theology, without actually instilling a sense of the divine. From the earliest ages, children must be taught that the Lord not only loves them, but desires to have a relationship with them, in which he will reveal his unique plan for them. Then, they must be taught to intentionally foster this relationship with the Lord, to listen to his call, and courageously accept his will for them. Especially with the young, the pedagogy of St. John Bosco ought to be seriously considered, especially when dealing with young men.
The Voice of the People
During the Rite of Ordination of a Priest, after the Gospel, but before the Homily, those to be ordained are called, by the deacon, by name. Then, a priest – usually the Director of Formation or the Director of Seminarians – addresses the Bishop:
“Most Reverend Father, holy Mother Church asks you to ordain these men, our brothers, to the responsibility of the Priesthood.”
The Bishop responds, “Do you know them to be worthy?”
The Priest continues, “After inquiry among the Christian people and upon the recommendation of those responsible, I testify that they have been found worthy.”
The Bishop continues, “Relying on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, we choose these, our brothers, for the Order of the Priesthood.”
Finally, the people respond, “Thanks be to God.” The people then give their assent, according to local custom. In the United States, this is commonly done by applause.
I share this, because even in the Rite of Ordination, itself, the voice of the people of God proves to be an unmistakable and powerful affirmation of one’s vocation.
In the aforementioned statistics on the ordination class of 2015, there are some statistics that are particularly interesting.
On average, responding ordinands report that they were about 17 when they first considered a vocation to the priesthood. They were encouraged to consider a vocation by an average of four people. Seven in ten (71 percent) say they were encouraged by a parish priest. Other frequent encouragers include friends (46 percent), parishioners (45 percent), and mothers (40 percent).
This speaks powerfully of the importance of the voice of the people of God to the promotion of vocations to the priesthood. While parish priests make up the overwhelming promoters, friends and parishioners, even more than mothers, prove a powerful motive for considering the call of the Lord. The fact that the average ordinand was 17 when he first considered a vocation to the priesthood is a bold testimony to the voice of the Father calling to young men.
If we are going to have faithful priests, the people of God must first seek holiness for themselves and then consider who of their sons and brothers the Lord calls to the priesthood. But most importantly, they must actually, vocally call him to service.
While these general ideas do little to outline specific practices to promote vocations, I believe that they outline a groundwork that research tells us is important to the cause at hand. The faithful would do well to consider how their own communities might meet these goals and what specific actions they can take to achieve them.