As National Vocation Awareness Week (NVAW) winds down, it’s interesting to think about the face of vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the 21st century world in which we live.
The annual week-long celebration of the Catholic Church in the United States is dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education. NVAW began in 1976 and it has been moved a few times within the calendar over the years. Beginning in 2014, NVAW will be held during the first full week of November.
Interest in vocations in the Church has seen an ever-so-small resurgence in recent years, though the challenge to address the priest shortage in the U.S. is still formidable. Quoting a study from the Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) states that there is “significant interest” among those ages 14-35 who have never been married in priesthood and consecrated life. You can review the full results of the study, titled, “Consideration of Priesthood and Religious Life Among Never-Married U.S. Catholics,” at the USCCB Web site – www.usccb.org.
As Catholic Christians, it is our duty to pray for vocations to the Church. But we have the opportunity to do more than pray. We can come alongside the young people in our parishes and communities who have expressed an interest in pursuing a vocation and let them know that they won’t be giving up their lives to the Church, but rather dedicating their lives to service and evangelization of the Gospel in a world that so desperately needs it.
I have never been a vocations director, but it seems to me that many young men or women who are considering a vocation in the Church may be struggling because they think they will be completely stepping away from society and that the lives they are living as teenagers or 20-somethings will be completely lost and replaced by a life of nothing but prayer and seclusion.
While we know some religous freely make the choice to pursue a life of solitude, seclusion and prayer, most vocations are not this way. I know as a husband and father of five that my vocation as deacon is definitely not this way!
Furthermore, how many priests, let alone anyone in any profession, can say they’ve had their picture on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine?
That’s right. Check out the cover of Italy’s Vanity Fair this week and you’ll see newly-ordained Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Pope Benedict’s personal secretary and prefect of the papal household. He has been dubbed “Gorgeous Georg” by the Italian media because of his blue eyes, good looks and, some believe, resemblance to actor George Clooney.
Archbishop Georg says he wants to be known more for his substance than looks, but he realizes that if his looks help people “look at the faith I’m trying to convey, then it’s a good thing.”
Archbishop Georg says he was a typical teenager in the 1970s who liked rock music and let his hair grow longer than his father liked. He was also smart and he could have easily pursued a career in finance and dreamed of being a stock broker, but philosophy and theology intrigued him. Not one to do anything halfway, he joined the priesthood in his twenties.
I can’t think of any profession or any choice a young person can make today that can have a more visible impact on the world in which we live in than the priesthood or religious vocation in the Catholic Church. Look around at what is going on in our world. Is there anything we are more in need of than people being led to God to live holy lives?
If you are reading this and have been prayerfully considering pursuing a vocation in the Church, know that it doesn’t matter if you look like George Clooney or Jennifer Aniston! What matters is what’s in your heart and the call you are feeling to serve the Church. Please know that I am praying for you, as have millions of Catholics in our country during this week.