Monday, May 4, 2009

Say "YES" to God

So, yesterday was the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, and as you can imagine, now that I am a vocation director, I'm thinking even more about vocations than before.

It has been quite a transition, moving from New Milford to Boston; and moving the Vocation Office from Andover to Boston, but it hasn't been without its humorous moments. One in particular, I went to the bank to set up the checking account for the office. Once everything was set up, the teller asked me to look over everything she had set up and it was then that I noticed that she set me up as the "Franciscan Vacation Office." I think that's a job that I would like to have!

On Saturday, I was at NH YouthFest '09 up at St. Anselm College and it was a great day and a great opportunity to talk to some young people about the possibility of pursuing a vocation. It was really a great day.

I had been stationed in New Hampshire for 8 years so I know a lot of the people and clergy up there and I had a conversation with one young priest that I know who I haven't seen in a while. And, I asked him how things were going. He shared with me that he was now pastor of a parish and that it was going well and then he said something that stopped me in my tracks. He said, "It's great, and I'm lucky, I'm only pastor of ONE church."

Can you imagine that we have come to this point where forget the possibility of having more than one priest in a parish, that priests are excited if they only have the pastoral and spiritual care of one parish?

I read this today in America Magazine:

"Silence and fervent prayer for vocations are no longer adequate responses to the priest shortage in the United States. As the church prepares to observe the Year of the Priest, which begins on June 19, open discussion about how to sustain the church as a eucharistic community of faith and fortify the pastoral life of Catholic congregations has become imperative. For making do within the limits set by present demographic trends presents a double threat to Catholic life: Catholic communities will become only infrequent eucharistic communities, or eucharistic communities will be severed from the pastoral care and public witness of priests.

In 2008 the sociologist Dean Hoge said: 'We need at least a doubling of ordinations to maintain the American priesthood as we know it now. But this is impossible.' Of current diocesan priests, only 70 percent are available for parish ministry, with the rest sick, retired or absent for a variety of reasons, according to Mary Gautier of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. An increasing number of Catholics are unable to participate in a Sunday or weekday Mass. All this prompts the question, Will the priest shortage impose a eucharistic famine on the Catholic people?

The de facto remedy already applied in many places— making the priest a circuit rider moving from parish to parish to dispense the sacraments—risks narrowing the ministry of the priest and impoverishing the Christian life of the communities he serves. A narrowly sacramental definition of priesthood satisfies the requirements of only one of the three canons that define the pastoral responsibilities of the priest, Canon 530. As a consequence the sacramental office is as a practical matter severed from its integral connection with comprehensive pastoral care. Canons 528 and 529 provide a broader understanding of the priestly ministry. The first sees the priest as one who instructs, catechizes, fosters works of justice, shows special care for the education of children and brings the Gospel to those who have ceased to practice the faith. The second requires that he should come to know the faithful entrusted to his care, visit families, share their concerns, worries and griefs, help the sick and seek out the poor, the afflicted and the lonely. Diminishing numbers make it difficult to carry out this holistic vision of the priest’s pastoral ministry.

We hope that the upcoming Year of the Priest will lead to a broader discussion of the priesthood in the contemporary world and, in particular, will open examination of the various ways the shortage of priests can be addressed honestly and with imagination. New vocations can be promoted through youth rallies, the Internet and, as always, with prayer. In addition, the pastoral needs of parishes may also be met in part by more effective pastoral assignment of permanent deacons and by increased leadership by lay men and women."

My contention of course always remains that the crisis we face is a crisis of awareness and openess to where God is leading people. You know to say there is a vocation crisis - that we don't have enough vocations - is to place the blame at the feet of God. It is to say that somehow God is at fault for not placing the call on people's hearts.

Of course, God is always calling in abundance men and women to serve His church. But, we have created an environment that makes it nearly impossible for people to choose a path in ordained or consecrated life.

We ask the People of God have got to honor this way of life. We have got to extol it; encourage it; invite men and women into it.

God is calling. He is calling so many. He is calling adequately, more than enough. But, we have been conditioned to ignore the call or find reasons to avoid it.

You know, study after study shows that the overwhelming majority of priests and religious are very happy in their way of life - and yet the perception out there is that we are not. There is nothing more wonderful than following God's plans into the priesthood and/or religious life (if that is what God is calling you too).

Let us pray that more will have the courage to say YES!

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