Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Vocations to Religious life: recognize the needs, discuss the issues
by Sister Christine Still OSF, for the Inland Register
(From the Jan. 12, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
Many vocation directors, both diocesan and Religious, are asked how vocations are these days. Are we getting any new members anymore? Are people still leaving like they did a few years back?
Let me try to answer some of the many questions we are faced with on a regular basis.
Yes, we are getting new members, but not at the same rate as we did back in the í40s and í50s. This was a significant anomaly in the history of Religious life. No, people are not leaving our communities at the rate they did in the Ďí70s and í80s. This, too, was an anomaly. Both of these situations have numerous reasons for their occurrences.
The next question that is probably asked more often than any other is: Where do vocations come from? It is actually a simple answer: Vocations come from you. They are your children or grandchildren, sister or brother, niece or nephew, the student in the religious education class, your childís best friend Ė even you.
Vocations need to be fostered. Vocations need to be encouraged. Vocations need to be developed. The Catholic population continues to grow, yet we donít have enough priests and Religious to meet the needs and demands. Why?
The answers we hear most often include the desire to have grandchildren, not feeling worthy of the call to Godís service, and the unwillingness to make the perceived sacrifices. So what do we need to do?
To start, we need to recognize the needs and begin discussing the issue. I sit on the pastoral council of my parish. My parish is fairly large and very diverse. We are constantly challenged to meet the needs of all the various cultures and languages. When someone from one cultural community said that we need to provide more priests for them, I asked how many young men from their community had entered the priesthood or Religious life. Silence fell upon the meeting. Heads then began to nod in understanding. Conversation then followed about encouraging and supporting vocations.
Our parish does have two seminarians for two different dioceses; one is younger and one is an older vocation. Two are not enough. And it wonít be long before they are ordained. Who will follow them? Will it be you? Or someone you know?
How do you support and encourage vocations?
ē Take the risk of suggesting to someone that you think they would make a good priest, Sister, Brother, deacon. Many people donít consider a life of service because no one ever called them forth. Maybe they never thought of themselves in Godís service. You may be the only one who has the courage to tell them. Maybe they need to hear it more than once.
Do you bring in speakers or show videos of vowed men and women serving in the Church? Do your young people in RCIA and Confirmation classes see vowed commitment just as valid as marriage and single life? Bring it up often. One class once a year isnít enough.
How often do we encourage our children to excel in a sport or playing a musical instrument? We provide special tutoring or summer camps for them to really develop their skills and talents. We encourage them to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, firefighters, police officers, and other professionals. We look for their future mate and plan their marital, educational, and financial futures. What about their faith and prayer? Should we not also look to their spiritual future and offer priesthood and religious life as real possibilities?
Some people donít enter Religious life or the priesthood because they donít think they can continue in the careers they are trained for and/or want to do. Many communities, mine included, have doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, chaplains, spiritual directors, farmers, social justice advocates, homeless shelter administrators, missionaries, therapists, and other roles. We go where Godís people need us. Often we are on the front lines of justice issues. Frequently we begin new ministries where needs are not being met and then move out several years later as lay ministers are able to take over. This is pretty much what happened with our excellent Catholic school systems and hospitals. Huge sacrifices were made by Religious communities to fund and staff these institutions. Once they became financially sustainable in other ways and the laity became trained in the ministries, we moved on.
The future of the priesthood and Religious life is in your hands. God definitely has a role.Our role is to support Godís call by helping our young people to hear and recognize the call. We need to encourage and support vocations. Open your heart to Godís call in your own life and assist others in hearing Godís call in theirs.
(Sister Christine is a vocation director for her community, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. She may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)