Sunday, January 07, 2007

Vocation Spotlight: A Review of Conscience

Everyone is acutely aware of the current vocation crisis. The priest shortage is more pronounced in some dioceses (such as my own Archdiocese of Dubuque)... and less so in others (the Diocese of Rockford, IL. has had recent ordination classes of 8, 10, and even 12 priests in some years). What distresses me is the lack of initiative that I see among the average lay person. I do not think that joe average lay perons in the pew sees the promotion of vocations as "their job". If we will ever have more priests again, we must review our consciences. We must ask ourselves some questions. In the following questions I write "local church"... and this can stand for the Church in the U.S., the Church in your local diocese, and your local parish. I have broken down the questions into 5 categories: Orthodox Teaching?, Eucharistic Consciousness?, Liturgical Beauty?, A Domestic Church That is Alive?, and Personal Responsibility? Note, I include question marks... we have to ask if these things are present where we are. [personal note: I am very happy to see many of these components in my own cluster of parishes here in Iowa]

  • Is my local church orthodox? Does it teach and defend the doctrines of our Catholic faith? Young people are not interested in giving their life to a counterfeit and watered down form of Christianity that is not challenging. Young people are not attracted to people who are bitter and constantly complaining about the Pope and bishops, or asking why teachings and disciplines do not change. Look at the major dissent groups in the Church... they most have aging people. Where do you see young catholics on fire for their faith?... at World Youth Day with the Pope, or at the new solid orthodox Catholic Universities such as Franciscan University at Steubenville, Ave Maria University, Christendom College, etc. It is mostly the religious orders and diocesan bishops with reputations for othodoxy that are also receiving the most new vocations of young men and women. [see my article "Where Have All the Monks and Nuns Gone?"
  • Is my local church not focusing its energy and resources on promoting vocations to the priesthood because of some heterodox agenda? Or worse, is my local church actively DISCOURAGING men from discerning a vocation to the priesthood because of such an agenda. I have heard some people almost seem glad that their is a priest shortage. They continue to wring their hands and complain that it is all the fault of "the Vatican"--those mean old men should just allow married men and women to be priests. The former could happen (it is a Church discpline)--but why not just trust and follow the lead of the Church in her wisdom. Would it really increase vocations if we made celibacy optional? I am not at all convinced that stripping the priesthood of more sacrifice will give us more priests. For the biblical basis of priestly celibacy of the priesthood, see my article at:
    ] Women priests? Never going to happen! (This is an issue of doctrine--it cannot change). Why do some people persist in hoping for it? See my article "Will the Church Ever Ordain Women Priests?":
  • Does my local church celebrate the teachings and traditions of the Church? Do we focus on the positive beauty of what the Church teaches regarding the reverence for life (abortion, stem cell research as immoral, valid use of death penalty, war), marriage (indissoluble vs. divorce, oriented to life vs. contraception, uniting a man and woman vs. same sex), social teachings (defense of poor, etc.), etc. Or... does my local church tend to mimic the popular false teachings of the world?


Obviously, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the source and summit of Christian worship. However, the Eucharist transcends the time spent attending Mass for an hour on Sunday. Do we center our spiritual lives around the Eucharist? ... Do we anticipate receiving Holy Communion throughtout the week by frequent prayer and making spiritual acts of communion? Do we prepare ourselves to receive our Lord worthily by sacramental confession (especially when we are in a state of grave sin).

  • Does my local church promote a devotion to the most Holy Eucharist? Does my church offer times for Eucharistic adoration and forcefully promote silent prayer to the average parishoner? How will we ever have priests if our people only pray for 1 hour a week at Mass?
  • Does my local church have a thriving Eucharistic consciousness? Do the people in the pews realize or care that our Lord is present in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in tabernacle at all times... waiting always for us to draw near to Him in prayer? Are parishoners reverent before the Blessed Sacrament, do they genuflect before the tabernacle?
  • Does my local church have a sense of silence before and after Mass? How can young men and women hear the voice of God and discern without some sanctuary of silence in an otherwise noisy world?
  • Does my local church offer times for regular confession? Without the regular practice of reviewing one's conscience, it becomes very difficult to hear God's call for your personal vocation (discernment of vocation always requires a process of personal purification). People will not treasure the Eucharist if they do not think that it is something that we must prepare to receive by penance.
  • Is the preaching in my local church challenging? Does the preaching focus on God's grace and the good news of the Gospel, while also constantly calling God's people to repent from sin and be renewed? Young men and women desire a challenge and adventure. If the Gospel is presented as feel-good fluff, they will look for excitement and challenge in some place other than Holy Mother Church.


  • Does my local church celebrate the liturgy in a way that is reverent and beautiful? The Mass is the center of the life of the priest. If the Mass is not seen as something important, beautiful, and reverent,... why would a young man decide to dedicate his life to it?
  • Does my local church seem to emphasize the "horizontal" dimmension of the liturgy (the community) to the exclusion of the "vertical" element (the sacrficial worship to God)? Is our worship at Mass more "community-centered" self-worship or is it truly the worship of God? Are we caught up too much in being entertained by the music and other externals (sometimes this can be seen in how often we hear things like applause in our churches)? Is the emphasis on what I give to God in worship... or is the emphasis on "what I get out of Mass" (that is a subjective emotional question)?
  • Does the liturgy in my local church seem to be overly casual and not taken seriously? Does the liturgy seem like the meeting of heaven and earth?... A young man is not going to consider devoting his life as a priest if the Mass (and the priest) is not taken seriously, or just seen as another community event.
  • Does my local church encourage males to serve as altar servers, lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion? Many people do not realize this, but if young men see only women doing things in church they will conclude that church is "for girls".
  • Does my local church make decisions about the celebration of the liturgy based on emotions or based on the Church's documents and norms? If my local church consistently violates the rubrics and norms for the Mass, the nature of the Mass and the role of the priest will be unclear to young men discerning a vocation. When planning the liturgy, does my church avoid certain elements of the Mass (some use of Latin, bells, chant, incense, etc.) because it makes some people feel like they are "going back" to a "pre-Vatican II" form of the Mass (even when such ideas are explicitly promoted in the Vatican II documents--see Sacrosanctum Concilium #36 regarding use of Latin)?

A DOMESTIC CHURCH THAT IS ALIVE (The health of the family)?:

  • Do I tell God how many children that my spouse and I will have? Or, do we as a married couple see children as gifts from God... are we open to having as many children as God desires for us? There is a simple issue of demographics at work here. When Catholic families had more children, there were more young men and women to discern vocations to the religious life or the priesthood. When a family is open to life, children learn generosity, sacrifice, and trust of God. When we view children as demands upon our economic resources (because we feel that we must give them every material thing!) that compete with parents' careers, the size of our house or the quality of our vacations... children do not learn what generosity is.
  • Does the local domestic church (the family!) encourage in their children the idea of serving the church in a vocation? This means not presuming that all of your children will marry and have children (though most probably would). This means teaching your children that holy matrimony is a beautiful, demanding, and holy vocation. It is a way a to live out the gospel and not just the degraded social institution that secular marriage has become. This means teaching your children about chastity and true love (vs. false hollywood romance). Ask youself: How would I react if my son told me he wanted to be a priest... if my daughter wanted to become a nun? Would I be happy for them? Would I be selfishly focussing on MY plans for my child... my desire to live vicariously through them... my desire for them to marry well and give me grandchildren?
  • Does my family pray together? Do we attend Mass regularly on every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation? Do we skip Mass sometimes in favor of sporting events, vacations, recitals, etc.? [What does this teach our kids about the central importance of worshipping God?] Does my family pray the rosary or study Holy Scripture together? Children can attend Catholic school or parish religious education classes for years and if their catechism if not reinforced in the family, it will likely not result in the transmission of a mature faith in the next generation.


  • Have I done anything to promote a culture of vocations in the Church? Have I ever asked anyone to consider a vocation to the priesthood or the religious life? How often do I pray for vocations? Do I just complain that getting priests is the job of "the Church" (in this case, meaning everyone in the Church except for me)--the bishop, the Diocese, Diocesan vocation directors, the U.S. Bishops Conference, Vatican, individual religious orders, etc.). NO... the buck stops with YOU. If you want priests for the future, ask yourself... what have you done to foster vocations.


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