When I asked Dominic, what do you want me to speak about…he more or less told me that I could choose! Sometimes it is easier to be given a topic to talk about. Anyways, after some prayer and reflection I came up with the title: “Creating a culture of vocation in today’s Irish Church- is it too late? ”.
We often associate the term “vocation” solely with priesthood or those discerning a call to the priesthood. But it is more than that. The word vocation comes from the Latin word vocare, which is a verb that means ‘to call’. In simplest terms, a vocation could also be called a ‘calling.’ In our Catholic worldview, we believe that God has a plan for each of us. In a way, in a broad way, the whole sense of discipleship, the whole sense of divine Providence, the whole sense that God has a plan for us, stems from what you might call this generic sense of vocation. What we often overlook is that we all have a vocation. Two actually! Primarily, we are all called to a life of holiness. That is we should all be striving to be saints one day. In addition, we all have a particular vocation. It is through our particular vocation that we discern the state of life God is calling us to.
That said, I don’t believe there is a vocation crisis. I believe that what we have is a Vocation Awareness Crisis. I know that God continues to call men and women into service, but I think we have created an environment in our Catholic culture where people no longer have the ears to hear that call; or the willingness to follow it. Outside of our church, our secular culture values materialism, wealth, status, position, celebrity and power, far, far above a call to poverty, chastity, obedience and service and so the natural outcome is fewer deacons, priests and religious, fewer married couples and families open to promoting vocations.
In vocation circles, we often talk about creating a culture of vocations. This is not a new concept. We know it used to exist. Fifty years ago, there was no greater honour to a family than if one of its members became a priest or a religious, but those times have changed. But they can change again.
I always think that we miss the boat when we don’t speak too about marriage as a vocation. I mean, that is the biggest vocations crisis in the Church today, if you ask me. When only half of our Catholic people are getting married, it’s to be expected that we have a crisis in the numbers of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. It’s a fear of commitment which is present across the board of all walks of life.
But what does it meant to create a culture of vocation? The word culture has many different meanings. For some it refers to an appreciation of good literature, music, art, and food. However, for anthropologists and other behavioural scientists, culture is the full range of learned human behaviour patterns. Culture is what forms us from our earliest days. Culture is a powerful human tool for survival, but it is a fragile phenomenon, it is constantly changing and easily lost. Just as this applies to any other kind of culture, so it applies to a culture of vocations.
Whose responsibility is it to create this culture of vocations? Pope Benedict XVI said: ‘Particularly in these times, when the voice of the Lord seems to be drowned out by ‘other voices’ and his invitation to follow him by the gift of one’s own life may seem too difficult, every Christian community, every member of the Church, needs to consciously feel responsible for promoting vocations.” So there’s our answer. It is the responsibility of everyone. It’s not a responsibility we can take lightly though it’s a responsibility we might not want to take upon ourselves. It means being moved out of our comfort zones to invite and encourage those in whom we see a potential vocation to consider the religious life or priesthood. Yet we need to do it because there are so many other aspects of our popular culture that promote values and ideals that dissuade anyone who might consider getting actively involved in the Church, much less give their life to service of the Church.
Answering Jesus’ call of “Follow me!” is “no less challenging” today than it was for the disciples 2,000 years ago. Pope Francis is his message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations urged the faithful to take every opportunity to develop vocations. “Every moment” in Church community life from catechesis to prayer and pilgrimages can be “a precious opportunity for awakening in the people of God … a sense of belonging to the Church and of responsibility for answering the call to priesthood and to religious life by a free and informed decision,” he says.
“The ability to foster vocations,” Pope Benedict wrote, “is a hallmark of the vitality of a local Church.” Yes, the springtime of the Church is happening in the universal Church. We see it in Africa; Asia; parts of Central America and Eastern Europe. We see it in some of the ecclesial movements. But what about Ireland? It may be too early to say that it is springtime in Ireland but as Church, we live knowing that spring is coming.
- Youth 2000 – Last year, over 1300 young people between 16 and 35 attended a 4 day festival of faith, based on the format of the 40 hours of Adoration. They sang, danced, prayed the Rosary, did Adoration, went to Confession, attended workshops on a number of topics, including vocations. It is an incredible witness to the hunger of our youth to know and celebrate their faith. There are now over 30 weekly Youth 2000 Prayer groups who meet and have Eucharistic Adoration and offer peer support in living faith.
- Pure in Heart- a movement which promotes the beauty of chastity and healthy relationships.
- Living Water- a charismatic prayer group here in Dublin for 20-40 year olds. It is committed to evangelisation and cultivating a living relationship with Jesus who sends us out to bring the Gospel. In Lent, a Life in the Spirit seminar was held for 10 weeks and over 130 young people participated.
- Sisters Café- an initiative of Vocations Ireland whereby sisters go to different venues and parishes to speak about vocations in an informal setting.
There are more applications for the Order of Consecrated Virginity (Ordo Virginum) which is a very specific form of consecration.
Some parishes, dioceses, religious orders, and colleges are developing vocation programs or youth programs to encourage young people in their faith, helping them to realize that a relationship with Christ is a beautiful and powerful thing that is worth developing despite what the popular culture may say. In Ireland, the national organization for vocations, Vocations Ireland, recently received a generous donation from the Hilton Foundation which offers huge possibility to get the message out about vocations and also to provide resources and opportunities for young and not so young people to explore the Lord’s call.