Vocations at Large

Untitled-1Having been a Vocation Director for the first three years of my priesthood, and, after over forty years of ministry, I certainly welcomed the conclusion of the recent CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) study completed in September of 2012. It was commissioned by the USCCB and was entitled, “Consideration of Priesthood and Religious Life Among Never-Married U.S. Catholics.”

Its conclusion stated: “Although many speak of priest shortages and steep declines in the number of men and women religious, the survey reveals that there is no shortage of individuals who seriously consider these vocations among never-married Catholics in the United States. Three percent of men say they have “very seriously” considered becoming a priest or religious brother and two percent of women indicate they have “very seriously” considered becoming a religious sister. This is equivalent to 350,000 never-married men and more than 250,000 never-married women.

“Shepherding more of these individuals on the path to seeking a vocation would likely require a combination of greater outreach from the Church, encouragement from others, assistance in obtaining educational prerequisites, and dealing with other issues such as student loan debt and citizenship status.”

As an active and interested priest, I know the dictum that “Every Christian is a Vocation Director” and that every person within the church should be open to a call to religious life (or priesthood) as some of their possible ways to serve God. Yet this is easier said than done.

 A Culture of Vocations

Untitled-2Pope John Paul II was such a charismatic person, having been involved with youth and married people from his earliest days on priestly ministry in his homeland of Poland.

On the 30th World Day of Prayer for Vocations (Sept. 8, 1992), Pope John Paul II encouraged people all who follow Christ to cultivate what he called an authentic “culture of vocation.” He described the underlying reasons for this:

“There is widespread today a culture which leads young people to be satisfied with modest endeavors which are far below their potential. But we all know that really in their hearts there is a restlessness and a lack of satisfaction in the face of ephemeral achievements; there is in them a desire to grow in truth, in authenticity, and in goodness; they await a voice which calls them by name. This restlessness, besides, is precisely the sign of the inalienable necessity of a culture of the spirit.

“The pastoral care of vocations today has developed with a recognition of this historic and cultural dimension, which makes evident not only the crisis but also the awakening of vocations. It is necessary, therefore, to promote a culture of vocation which will recognize and welcome this profound human aspiration, which brings a person to discover that Christ alone can tell him the truth about life. Christ, the Good Shepherd, calls every person to recognize himself in this truth. Vocation is born from love and leads to love, because, "man cannot live without love" (Redemptor hominis, #10).

“This culture of vocation is at the base of a culture of new life, which is a life of gratitude and of gratuity, of trust and of responsibility; at its roots, it is a culture of the desire for God, who gives the grace of esteeming man for himself, and of incessantly defending his dignity in the face of all that could oppress him in body and in spirit. (#2)”

In May, 1997, at a Congress on Vocations to the Priesthood and to Consecrated Life in Europe, Pope John Paul Il dovetailed support for a culture of vocations with his new emphasis on a “new evangelization” by saying:

Untitled-3“With generosity and transparency (a true culture of vocations) will give to the lay conscience that wisdom it has received from on high. In this way, such a new culture will become the right and proper terrain of the new evangelization, where a new model of man can be born and allow new holiness and new vocations… to flourish.

“In fact, the shortage of specific vocations — vocations in the plural — is above all an absence of the vocational consciousness of life — vocation in the singular —, or rather the absence of a culture of vocation. This culture, today, is probably becoming the primary objective of pastoral work for vocations or, perhaps, of pastoral work in general. What kind of pastoral program, indeed, would not cultivate the freedom of feeling oneself called by God, or give birth to newness of life?”

In other words, supporting a culture of vocations can foster a new evangelization, a new personal and vibrant awareness of Christ who call all of us to follow him – in a myriad of ways.

The CARA Study

With the publishing of the CARA study, we have the opportunity to reflect on their major findings in view of their most encouraging conclusions. Some specifics are:

“Overall, 12 percent of male respondents say they considered becoming a priest or brother at least a little seriously. Ten percent of female respondents say they considered becoming a religious sister at least a little seriously. The subgroups that are especially likely to have considered a vocation include:

  • Untitled-4Weekly Mass attenders (now and in high school)
  • Those who attended Catholic educationalinstitutions at any level (excluding parish- based religious education)
  • Those who participated in Church-related groups, programs, or activities as a youth or young adult
  • Those who lived in households where parents talked to them about religion at least once a week
  • Those who say their faith is the most important part of their life (now and in high school)
  • Those who participate in prayer and devotional activities, groups, or programs (e.g., Bible study, Eucharistic adoration, retreats, or prayer groups)
  • Those who pray the rosary at least weekly (alone or in a group)
  • Those belonging to a group that encourages devotion to Mary
  • Those who were encouraged to consider a vocation by someone else (e.g., family, friends, clergy, religious)
  • Those who regularly read the Bible or pray with Scripture
  • Those who personally know priests and men and women religious (in their extended family or outside of it)
  • Those who have participated in parish ministry (e.g., Lectors, Ministers of Holy Communion, Youth Ministers)
  • Those who have participated in World Youth Day or a National Catholic Youth Conference
  • Those who have recently accessed religious and spiritual content in traditional or new media

Untitled-5Another interesting point is: “Vocational consideration appears to rebound slightly among the Millennial Generation (i.e., those born after 1981), particularly among men of this generation.” Concerning differences related to face and ethnicity, the CARA study states: “…female respondents who self-identify as other than white or Hispanic are significantly more likely than others to say they have considered becoming a religious sister.”

Concerning consideration of becoming a priest or religious brother among men, “Among male respondents, … those who attended a Catholic secondary school (grades 9-12) are more likely to have considered becoming a priest or religious brother… these respondents are more than six times as likely to have considered a vocation. Participation in a parish youth group during primary school years (grades K-8) is also strongly related to vocational consideration. These respondents are more than five times as likely to consider a becoming a priest or religious brother than those who did not participate in a parish youth group.”

Concerning use of traditional media (television, radio, print) to access content about religion or spirituality, CARA states that “use of two or three traditional media to access religious or spiritual content is associated with an even greater likelihood of vocational consideration.”

Some of their observations concerning Hispanics include:

  • They are among the most likely to participate in devotional practices and other prayer that is associated with a greater likelihood of considering a vocation.
  • They are among the least likely to report that they have ever been encouraged to seek a vocation.
  • They are among the least likely to report that they have ever been encouraged to seek a vocation.

All in all, the CARA study gives us some encouraging news and, again, points out that about 350,000 never-married men have “very seriously” considered becoming a priest or religious brother and more than 250,000 never-married women” have “very seriously” considered becoming a religious sister. This is good news indeed and perhaps gives us a further motivation to look for and encourage all active Catholics to keep in their “vocational vision” the priesthood and religious life for themselves or others.

Untitled-6Finally, we should all pray for vocations and encourage within each of us a healthy “culture of vocations”, perhaps using the following prayer:

O Lord, I fully realize that I pass through this life only once. Let your light shine in the depths of my heart that I may know what you want me to do with my life, to make a difference.

Like our Blessed Mother, give me the wisdom to hear your voice and the courage to answer your call with freedom and generosity. Above all give me peace of mind and heart that I may always do your will. I offer this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

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