I’ve been think about this a lot and I’ve come to the conclusion that Christians don’t understand vocations, and for that reason they don’t understand their faith. In fact, would go so far as to say it is one of the central crises in our faith life.
Take this post as chapter 1 in a series because the number of connections here are too many for one post.
In this post, I want to shatter the way we commonly think of vocations, and I am speaking specifically about vocations to priesthood and religious life. It is too myopic and tepid. It needs to be thrown away.
So, to begin, I want to propose that there are two signs, two indicators of health and maturity for a Christian community. The first is a healthy culture of Confession, that people are going to confession and using it maturely; and vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
If these two things are missing or underdeveloped then it indicates that the community does not understand what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Therefore, if these are the most tangible fruits of a healthy Christian Community, then we can start to understand what a Christian community is suppose to be like. We begin to ask, “What typo of community should we be if the call to religious life should be a regular fruit of our Communal living?”
In order to hear our vocation we need two things. First, we need to be acutely aware of the needs of the world and the Church and second, we need to be acutely aware of what we have to offer. We have to hear our own passions and inspirations and also the passions and aspirations of the world. This means that God’s call is always in a proportional relationship to needs of the world.
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers to his harvest.” Matthew 9:37-38
With this in mind, let’s do some math.
There are approximately 7 billion people in the world and 1 billion of these are Catholic. This comes out to approximately 14 percent of the world’s population. Now, accounting for the fact that a rough average of 30 percent of these Catholics faithfully practice their faith you come out with a worldwide family of 3 hundred million, about 4 percent of the worldwide population. That’s a pretty big family.
If we identify, from this group those who are eligible for religious life and priesthood it comes out to 1 percent.
All the Young Catholics living their faith life is just one percent. They are truly an elite group. If all of those in this category entered religious life and the priesthood it would not be enough. They are truly the salt of the earth and the yeast of the leaven.
I want to say something radical, a hyperbole; in order to break the mold. I think that there is a good chance that they are all called to religious life and the priesthood. All of them.
Ok, maybe that’s a little out there. Let’s get reasonable. Maybe we could say three quarters of them are called? Could we say half of them, maybe a quarter, or maybe just an eighth?
What I want to emphasis here is that vocations to the priesthood and religious life should not be this rare phenomenon in our parishes every 2 or 3 years. There should be 20 or 30 every year, or even more. However, we sow what we reap. Our vision is too small and so there is little fruit. Vocations are treated superficially, as an addendum to everything else we are doing, instead of being a key element of our identity integrated into our very identity as Christians.
Vocations to the religious life should be like leaves falling from the trees not rare diamonds in the rough.
But this is deeper then some superficial recruitment campaign or shaming young people to become religious. It’s about being a community of such depth that religious vocations spring out of it naturally. It’s about looking at the entire diocesan and parish program and saying, “Is this the type of model that brings forth religious vocations?”
Sometimes we are too cautious with religious vocations. Young men and women think that they need this other worldly quality, some ability to enter into hours of prayer with ease, or speak eloquently about their faith. They don’t recognize that if they are attending Mass every Sunday, professing their faith, celebration confession regularly; then they already have and incredible faith life. That the very fact that they are considering priestly and religious life means that there is a good chance that they are being called.
It’s about helping them see the great gift that they already have. The Christian, when discerning their vocation, should first look at the great gift of faith they have and say, “How, with the other gifts and talents that I have, am I going to share this with the world?”
Simply by being the 1 percent they are already called to a heroic vocation; they already have a precious gift that they are called to give to the world. If a person had an intelligence that was counted among the 1 percentile but wasted it on something superficial we would consider it a great loss. Rarely, however, does our great gift of faith get into vocational discernment of our youth.
Discussions about religious life should be common topic in our RE programs. Conversations about Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, and Diocesan priesthood should as frequent as conversations about A&M, UT, or Baylor university. Not as an indoctrination or recruitment, but as a vibrant cultivation of the Christian imagination.
It should not be a topic we discuss in one lesson at the end of the year as a side note without any clear plan of what to do with it. It has to be considered an integral part of our identity and mission as Christians. It should be the fuel that feeds our Christian imagination. Without it our Christian faith is reduced to going to Church on Sunday, keeping the rules, and, if we break the rules, go to confession. Anyone who’s faith is reduced to this will very quickly not go to Church on Sunday, keep the rules, or go to confession.