Holy Hour Reflection
The following is an excerpt from a reflection given by seminarian Greg Bettencourt at a Vocation Holy Hour at Our Lady of Fatima Chapel in Swansea, MA on December 5, 2005.
When we look around our country today and see that the general population is increasing and that the number of Catholics is increasing, while the number of priests is decreasing what does this make us think? Initially some can simply disregard the problem, leaving it as something for the Church, meaning priests and bishops to figure out. But, since all of you are gathered here today to pray for vocations, I assume that you do not fall into this category. Some people then can think that it is because our country is becoming more and more godless, but what about in the far more pagan countries in Africa where not only is the Catholic Church growing, but vocations are flourishing? There are many reasons for why vocations to the priesthood are not developing in our country, but no singular reason can explain it. This means then, that the best way to tackle the problem is to go to its root, and that I dare say is a lack of education about vocations, a lack of education of parents and thereby a lack of education of young men.
The first responsibility of why there are less priestly vocations in our country today falls into the hands of parents. This is not to criticize all parents for doing a lousy job in raising their children, but how often do parents, even very good parents, stop to think that they are the “primary educators” of their children, particularly in the area of the faith. From the moment of their baptism, parents are instructed that they themselves are and will always be the primary “religious educators” of their children. Yet, countless children are dropped off at CCD classes each week and then little to no mention is made of God or Church until next Sunday rolls around and someone’s son or daughter has to be dragged out of bed to go to Sunday School. Then as they get older, they can’t wait to be confirmed, not to receive the gifts of the Spirit, but because it is the day of their CCD graduation, when they no longer have to attend religious ed. classes and unfortunately in most cases, no longer have to attend Mass. Considering all this then, is it little wonder why there is such a shortage of men answering a call to the priesthood?
The late Holy Father, John Paul II, made note of this constantly when he addressed the youth on vocations. He says, “The family that cultivates a missionary spirit in its lifestyle and in education itself, prepares good soil for the seed of the divine call and, at the same time, strengthens the loving ties and Christian virtues of its members.”
So the first step we can take to help promote vocations is to encourage our own families and our friends to take the time and make the effort to, at the very least, open the hearts of their sons to consider a priestly vocation by developing an environment, first within the family, and from that the Church as a whole, where priestly vocations are encouraged and supported. Every single man and woman has a natural calling to marriage by our very nature which makes it all the more important to be attentive when God calls one of us to a special vocation within the Church.
Parents must be educated to realize that they have a real responsibility to God and His Church to do their work in promoting vocations within their own family, whether it is a willingness to give of their son to the priesthood or daughter to religious life, or to simply create a family environment where prayerful support of priestly vocations is common. Even more important is to educate parents that their children belong first to God, and then to themselves. This is a difficult reality to accept, but one that when it is realized, will naturally lead to an increase in religious vocations in the Church. Again John Paul II stressed this, saying, “For man, to generate a child is above all to ‘receive it from God’: it is a matter of welcoming from God as a gift the child that is generated. For this reason, children belong first to God, and then to their parents: and this is a truth which is rich in implications for both parents and children. Once parents are able to understand that all life belongs to God first, since He is the One who gives life, then when God calls a young man to the priesthood, parents will not only support that calling, but encourage the young man to answer God’s call since his life belongs to God.”
Ultimately though, the decision to discern a vocation to the priesthood lies within the individual man himself. Thus, it is just as important to educate the youth on the importance of priestly and religious vocations in the Church. This is done through a variety of ways, whether through vocation advertisement, vocation recruitment or most especially, through personal invitation. While it is inappropriate to simply consider the priesthood as a job or career, we have to realize that in our world today the vocation to the priesthood competes with other possible jobs and careers open to high schoolers and college students. Thus it is not enough to simply sit back and hope that a young man will come by the vocation office and say, “I want to be a priest.” He must be encouraged by the Church, constantly seeing vocation posters, opportunities for prayer, and hearing encouraging invitations to consider the priesthood.
Yet, while all of these ideas to promote vocations are good, and it is important that we as a Church focus on them, I realized last night more fully what is truly the best and most effective way to promote vocations. I don’t know how many of you had the opportunity last night to watch the CBS Sunday Movie on John Paul II, but if you did then most likely, you like myself were yet again struck by the impact that his life had not only on our Church, but on the entire world. This great influence was not accomplished through his great rhetoric or ability to promote himself, but it was done solely through his example. The way he lived his life challenged and encouraged others to follow Jesus.
What then is a more effective way to promote vocations and encourage a young man to consider the priesthood, then to live our lives in accord with the will of God and striving to be good Christians each day. In a special way our priests have a strong responsibility to be good examples of how it is to live the priesthood in a holy and loving way. No young man that I have ever encountered who is currently discerning the priesthood as a seminarian has ever said that he considered becoming a priest without first having seen a great example of the priesthood either from his own parish priest or a priest that he met. Considering this, it is not hard to understand why our country today, now more than ever, faces a greater challenge in promoting vocations. When the actions of a few men have had incredible repercussions for all priests, laity, and the Church as a whole, it becomes ever more important for the good men who serve our Church in the priesthood to live their lives in a humble and noble way. I personally have encountered many priests who have, by the simple example of their living of the priesthood, encouraged me to emulate that life and give myself in service to God and His Church. The Church needs good priests and the only way to get good priests in the future is to have good priests today. Thus, it is our job to encourage our priests, to support them in their vocation and help them to live their lives in a way fitting of their calling.
As laity, we are not excluded from the responsibility to be good examples of vocations. Imagine how difficult it would be for a young man or woman to say he wanted to be a priest or religious if his or her only experience of Church was people in the pews fighting with each other, bickering about the Church, and complaining about their priests. Nobody wants to join a corporation where the people they will be working with are angry and unsupportive, and it is the same with the Church and the priesthood. If a young man sees that the Church as a whole supports and wants priestly vocations, then he is all the more likely to make that next step and truly discern what God is calling him to.
In closing, I wish to thank you for your presence here today. By being here to pray for vocations, you show that you already understand the responsibility you have to cultivate that supportive environment. I can easily speak for myself and all the seminarians when I say that it is the knowledge that there are people who care about vocations, who support them and pray for them, that makes the journey of discerning the priesthood much easier to complete. Ever heed the call of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus tells his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Beg the harvest Master to send many more laborers into the harvest.” Let us pray today and always that we will not grow discouraged, but see that in our Church the harvest is abundant and we need only to be persistent in our prayer that God will send good men to serve us and the entire Church as good and holy shepherds, priests in the image of Christ. God Bless all of you.
Prayer and Reflection