By Christopher Gunty
Times have changed since my days in grade school in a Chicago suburb. Back then, our school was staffed by about a dozen nuns and a similar number of lay teachers. The parish was staffed by three or four priests at a time, including the one primarily assigned to ministry at the hospital within the parish boundaries.
The students had plenty of examples of dedicated men and women who had chosen to follow a full-time calling in service of God and his people in the form of the priests and Dominican sisters who served Our Lady of Loretto.
Likewise, the priests and sisters had time to mentor and encourage vocations. As they lived out their lives of faith, certainly the example they gave was a strong indicator that they were – for the most part – happy, healthy and holy. Just as important, if a student indicated interest in learning more about the priesthood or religious life, they had the opportunity to discuss that with those serving our parish.
During our mealtime grace, after the traditional blessing, we would pray “For religious vocations from our home” and a Hail Mary. None of my sisters considered the religious life, but I know of at least one religious sister who came from our parish around that time. Some boys from the parish, including my three brothers and me, went to high school and/or college seminary.
With larger families in the past, moms and dads could “afford” to encourage at least one of their children to consider a vocation, knowing they might still have grandchildren from another child. These days, with smaller families, some parents are concerned more about passing on their family heritage than their Catholic heritage; they don’t encourage a vocation when a son or daughter shows an inclination. That’s the wrong way to look at it; if we don’t urge our children to do what they are called to do, if we don’t even allow them to hear the whisper of God’s call, we are not doing our best for them or for God’s people.
Also, now that our parishes are bigger and we have fewer priests, sisters and brothers to be the exemplars for young vocations, they have less time to mentor potential vocations. And those we have are growing in wisdom, age and grace, so that the numbers retiring – or dying – outpace the numbers in formation (see “City Calling,” pages 12-13). Who will take the place of those who have served so faithfully, for so long? Who will bring the face of God to the poor, the sick, the prisoners (see excerpt below)?
Yet, we have hope. Some religious communities are seeing a surge in young aspirants, and more seminary candidates are coming forward. In an encouraging sign, the neighboring Archdiocese of Washington recently opened a new seminary.
Families need to be open to allowing and even encouraging their sons and daughters to consider a vocation. The question often has been phrased that it’s not about a person asking what he or she wants to do in life, but asking what God wants him or her to do.
How does God want me to serve his people? That’s a question all of us should ask ourselves, and encourage those around us to do the same.
Copyright (c) Jan. 10, 2013