Vocations: A Layperson's View
Dr Bernard V Lee FAITH Magazine May-June 2006
The Lord is still calling people to fulltime work for the church in England and Wales. It is illogical to think that He would ask us to pray for more workers for the harvest if He was not prepared to continue calling. I do not believe that the Lord is limiting His call to full-time commitment in the Church in order to encourage the diaconate or fuller lay participation in the Church’s activities. In my experience this negative attitude is all too common. There is enough harvesting to be done for an increased number of priests and deacons and for an active laity. Everyone has to respond to the command “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations“ but priests are necessary for the fulfilment of “Do this in commemoration of Me”, and for the continuing sacramental and pastoral activity of Christ the Head.
What then is stopping the call of the Holy Spirit getting through? For starters there are so many distractions today. Our Lady may not have become aware of the angel if she had been watching Coronation Street with an I-pod in one ear. Perhaps us faithful do not give enough time to listening to the Lord. Do we more often say “Listen Lord your servant is speaking” rather than “Speak Lord your servant is listening”.
We should acknowledge that sadly many Catholic families do not welcome vocations to full-time work for the Church. Such do not appreciate that “Everyone who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother for My sake, will receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life.” Parents of small families who are very concerned about having grandchildren around might reflect they are likely to see more of their celibate children than those with the care of spouses and families. The reduction in size of the Catholic family appears to have reduced the enthusiasm with which a religious vocation is welcomed. Many vocations come slowly over a long period and the “called“ often need and always appreciate encouragement and affirmation.
One of the difficulties frequently when discussing vocations is the general lack of understanding of the Church’s present opinion on married priests and woman priests.
From my experience of Serra involvement in clergy meetings a number of interested parties seem to be sitting back and waiting for the Church to change its teaching or discipline in these areas, and forcing us laity to waste alot of energy discussing such issues. This can divert attention away from the our responsibility to accept the situation we find ourselves in and to take the contemporary fostering of vocations seriously.
The faithful should be encouraged to engage in thoughtful prayer for more vocations. It is certain that their prayers will be effective. The prayer should include thanksgiving for the vocations already accepted and sorrow for the occasions when vocations have been discouraged or even ridiculed.
Parishioners should be made aware of the effectiveness of suitable people being “Called by name”. Christ works through us. The “call“ is more likely to be successful if made by someone who knows the person well. Teachers, parents brothers, sisters and colleagues are the best “callers”. It is rare these days, due to the reduction in parish visiting, for the priests and bishops to know their flocks well enough to enter this delicate field with success. We should remember that it was Peter’s brother Andrew who introduced Peter to the Lord. “We have found the Messiah.” Informed parents should be well motivated to foster vocations, as they will be concerned about the sacramental life of their children and grandchildren.
It is not generally known that, in November 2004, there was a meeting of more than 100 African and European bishops out side Rome for three days. On the third day the bishops led by the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe and The Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Africa and Madagascar discussed the need of the African Church to participate in the re-evangelisation of the Church in Europe. A draft proposal was made for an inter-continental clergy exchange programme. This suggested that Europe should be provided with African priests in return for a smaller number of of European clergy with rich academic and pastoral experience to work in the African seminaries. Pope John Paul II had proposed a second symposium of this group to help them to carry forward these ideas.
The laity should continue to look after the priests and religious already working for our spiritual care. They are so often working in isolation and need opportunities for cultural and social development as well as provision for their material needs. Being celibate should not exclude our religious and priests from the social life of the parish. How often do we invite the clergy into our homes apart from weddings and funerals?
There are many practical things that lay people can do to foster and affirm religious vocations. These include for example visiting seminaries and sending anniversary cards to priests, deacons and religious. It would also be good to see a diocesan concerted effort to portray the advantages of a dedicated celibate life.