Recently, I was in a Catholic chat room over the Internet and asked the question, "What is your parish doing about vocations?" I received a variety of answers concerning vocations, but none of them had to do with priestly vocations. In the raised consciousness of vocations in the church these days I fear we've been making a grave mistake. We have put so much emphasis on lay vocations and vocations to the Diaconate that we've all but lost the idea of religious or priestly life. We've almost treated this necessary vocation as if it is obsolete. In some cases, we have cast it aside as "politically incorrect." For the moment, let's examine the most critical shortage, the shortage of priests.Many Catholics have been caught up in the ways of the world and have put a great emphasis on celibacy as if it were a disease or a tragic way of life. Because we are enmeshed in the remnants of the "sexual revolution" we think there can be no relationships in this world without sex. How often I've heard the vocations crisis would be solved if priests were allowed to marry. The same critics who raise this issue fail to look at the statistics of other major religions that allow their ministers to marry but suffer nonetheless the same vocational lack to ministry. They also fail to look at the divorce rate among non-Catholic clergy who marry. Many of these religions do not regard marriage as a "Sacrament." We do!
When one takes the vow of celibacy, it is to have the freedom to be available to those whom they serve. It is also to allow the financial burden to be lifted from those they serve in supporting the family of clergy. Imagine this little parish having to pay for the provisions of a priest with a family. Not only would the normal household expenses have to be paid, but also all the other things like hospital plans for wife and children, educational needs for children, etc. No, the person who takes this vow of celibacy does so in order that the people of the community will have less of a burden and the uncompromised availability will always be there.
The specific vocation that is sorely needed these days is for priests! We can talk about other vocations all we want. But we avoid talking in group settings to young men or boys in current times because we worry so much about how the women and girls might feel as they might be caught up in the world's ways of looking at the priesthood and find offense. The priesthood might be established for males to fill, but the priesthood is to serve everyone!
How often have I heard people saying things like, "I don't want my son to be a priest. I want grandchildren." Yet, these same people would be very offended if they were on their deathbed and no priest could be found. I have met people who have actually stopped attending church for this reason. But when I ask how many priests were provided from their particular family, I get a blank stare. Priesthood is a sacrifice not only for the man who takes the vows, but also for those who support his decision to serve God. Woe to those who would discourage or neglect God's call in their children! Judgment falls on them.
We all know how the Church buildings that are being built these days have become larger and larger. This is to accommodate the large numbers of Catholics with the smaller number of priests. It is meant to only be a temporary fix to the problem at hand. There is only one priest to about five thousand Catholics in our society. What a burden to place on one person. It is time that we get serious about vocations. It is time that we take a serious look at how we present the specific vocation of priesthood to young boys and men. We have conformed to the world far too long in being overly sensitive to other vocations while neglecting the one vocation established by God to provide the sacraments that Jesus died to give us.
We pride ourselves in a merciful God. But God is no wimp either. He expects us to perpetuate the faith and to bring all people to His plan for salvation. If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem before God. Jesus was not making a casual suggestion when he spoke of witnessing to Him and the salvation He provides. Each person is part of the solution or part of the problem. Each of us provides for the spread of the Gospel by learning and spreading it through evangelization, or one does not. Each person is real about faith and the sacraments, or takes them as mere sentimental expression. Each person believes in the priesthood that Christ the Lord established, or does not. As one who embraces the fullness of the faith, each must know what he or she will present to God as evidence of salvation working in his or her life. Faith is not meant just for warm fuzzy momentary feelings.
The call to a priestly vocation is not an easy one. No one ever said it was. The call does not come like a bolt of lightning or spiritual energy. It is not merely a romantic gesture of being "closer to God." No, the call comes through opening one's eyes to the need of people to have their sacramental needs met. If you are male and single and can see that there is a need, there is a strong possibility that God is asking you to make a sacrifice. Yes, it could be the sacrifice of your whole life to serve others. There will be many challenges. You will not make a lot of money. You will not have a great deal of intimacy because you will always be in a leadership role. Yes, you will undergo constant criticism from those who do not know the faith. Yes, your faith will constantly be challenged by your education and new theologies. There will be continual faith challenges. The tension between real faith and mind consoling theologies to meet various agendas will always be there. You will constantly be bombarded with those, who with little education, will try to enforce their particular rendition of how the Church should be run. Your own arrogance of being educated will be challenged by those who live their lives better and more faithfully than you. You will find times when you will have to make pastoral decisions that may "appear" to be contrary to rules and be ridiculed for it. You will find yourself following rules that others don't understand and being labeled rigid.. You will have to submit yourself to superiors and trust that God is guiding them even when you disagree. You will have to follow orders with no explanations.
While this may sound like a very negative presentation of priesthood, it is far from being so. A man's integrity is not based or founded on how much he can control his environment or others around him. His integrity, to be a real man, is founded upon what accomplishments can successfully be found in him upon facing God. His dignity is found in the courage he uses to surrender to need. If he is to have pride, a man's character is found in the pride of serving Christ through neighbor and his love for humanity.
So, the bottom line is that we need priests. Have you raised the males in your family to be man enough to serve God? Do you truly believe in the imitation of the sacrifice of the One Whom you call Lord? If so, let us see the priests you family provides.
HERE I AM, LORD
I, the Lord of sea and sky,
Fr Amaro Saumell began his religious education at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, later attending St. Johns Seminary in Camarillo, California for his graduate work. A late vocation priest, he brings to the priesthood his love of life and a wealth of creativity. In July of 1992, Father Amaro was ordained to the priesthood and is the pastor of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Church in Crestline, California.