Monday, September 5, 2011

Vocations Revisited

It's no secret that Catholic vocations have taken a dramatic dip in the past five decades or so. Many diocese and religious orders have fervently taken up the task of encouraging potential candidates to seriously consider a life as a priest or a nun in a diocesan capacity or religious order. If it weren't for those efforts, I think an even greater number of parishes and monasteries might have closed or consolidated to compensate for the lack of clergy. This shortfall in Catholic vocations does, once again, invite a focused analysis of the overall components and pre-requisites of a life as a Catholic priest or Catholic nun.

Supposedly--and I don't always agree with this--the biggest precondition that keeps men from entering the priesthood is the celibacy demand. Many Catholics (and non-Catholics) that I've spoken to consider this pre-requisite to be anachronistic and well within the authority of the Magisterium to change or modify. I think this drive to eliminate priestly celibacy is also encouraged by the knowledge that married men are ordained in the Eastern Catholic Rites, and the exposure some parishes have had to the influx of Anglican priests entering the Catholic Church with wife and children. To this date, I haven't heard anything exceptionally derogatory about parishes managed by married Catholic clergy. But since I have a strong aversion to most things progressive, it's important not to dismiss the criticism that comes from the opponents of lifting the celibacy demand. Having said that, I personally don't think that a multitude of priests getting divorced or accused of infidelity would equal the scandalous and deleterious impact of one sexual abuse accusation. And if this was an issue of conservatives versus liberal Catholics, would the conservatives not be the ones who want to lift the celibatic condition to the priesthood, since, for the first eleven hundred years of the Catholic Church, married men were ordained to the priesthood?

When evaluating the relevance of the ecclesiastical law about sacerdotal celibacy--whether for it or against it--the first thing we have to do is detach ourselves from our egos and propensity to become hostile even at the mention of change. There's no doubt in my mind that some people on both sides of this issue at some point begin to argue for their personal win rather than for what is good and truthful for the Church.

Secularism/ Materialism

"Vocations begin at home."

Our culture measures success by income, status, and material holdings. This type of mentality seeps even into the most faithful of Catholic upbringings, often times promoting prestige and the ability to produce material goods as rewards for hard work and sacrifice (I would argue that mentality is more Protestant than Catholic but, nevertheless, enough Catholics think this way as well). Priestly life, while respected and appreciated (for the most part), is considered a corollary to mainstream professions that provide greater incomes and bigger opportunities to obtain material goods and higher status recognition. If a Catholic child is conditioned to believe those things, The Calling will undoubtedly fall on def ears. So when you think about it, those Catholics who on one hand join parish lay groups that encourage vocations and sponsor seminarians, but on the other hand perpetuate the Protestant Ethic, contribute in large amounts to the vocation deficiency they're trying to diminish.

The Catholic voice has to be louder than the secular clamor most people are accustomed to hearing. This secular cacophony is so ubiquitous and so unchallenged that most of our youth, and indeed their parents, march to the beat of it with an almost trance-like obedience. So when you consider the types of qualities that are valued in some everyday Catholic households, you realize that the lack of vocations isn't just a low number of candidates entering the seminaries, but also a misguided focus on behalf of the Catholic family on things that are ephemeral and materialistic.

Going off on a tangent
Some critics outside the Catholic Church, and even some Catholics, have judged the priesthood and religious life as a place where a gay man or woman could seek cover for the nature of their sexuality and keep suspicion at bay. A Catholic man that knew he would never marry because he was gay could easily account for the lack of a female partner if he was an ordained priest committed to living a chaste life, as I've heard some say. Now that there is a greater acceptance in our society for gay men and women, might that not alleviate the pressure felt by some Catholic members of this demographics to hide their sexuality by entering a religious life that they were never called for? I can hear the argument that a wrong in our society doesn't constitute a benefit for the Church.

Anyway, this is stuff that's been on my mind recently and I'm just throwing it out to you guys.

Photo Credit: Catholic Seminarians of Facebook

1 comment:

Shirley said...

Good post Tom. On the issue of celibacy, for me it really boils down to obedience to the Magisterium. Since there is nothing intrinsically wrong with celibacy, and since it is intended for the priest to be able to focus his life on serving God and not a wife, I see no harm in it. In fact, I see a lot of good in it! Whenever I hear a sermon from a married priest (ie. Anglican convert) it makes me very uncomfortable when he relates stories of his wife and children during the sermon.
I also believe that many if not most of the sexual abuse scandals were perpetrated by homosexuals hiding their inclinations; and as you say the new societal acceptance of homosexuality should now lower the number of these people entering religious life as a cover up. In the long run, this will benefit the clergy, even if it does lower the number of vocations, but at least now we can hope that young men will wish to become priests for the right reason.