For the last 30 years the Church in North America and Western Europe has experienced a shortage of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. This is a very frightening reality since we know that the Church without priests cannot go on. As we reflect on the responsibility of fostering vocations in our present age, it is important to realize that by avoiding some of the mistakes in vocation ministry and focusing on the essentials of our faith we can actually regain our hope in the future of the Church and actually experience a deeper conversion through our involvement in the vocation work.
One of the mistakes that are often made by us is assuming that there is a shortage of vocations to the priesthood because God is not calling men to this way of life. Blaming God for the ills of our world, even though no uncommon, is one of the greatest injustices we can commit against God. All good things come from God, and all evil does not come from God. If I found a job, succeeded in some project, or received a raise it is because God gave me the talents that I have and sustained me in my abilities. It is God who deserves praise for the good in my life. On the other hand, when I loose my job, get in an accident, or fail in some way it is not because of God but rather as a result of the brokenness of our world and our very nature due to the original sin which was brought about by humanity and not by God. This is a very important starting point for us: God is the cause of all good in our lives and never of any evil, and to accuse God of being the source of evil is a great offence agains Him.
We have failed
Vocations require a two step process: God calls and we answer. The shortage of vocations to the priesthood, therefore, is not caused by God, because God is the source of all good. He is faithful, and He continues to keep His end of the deal; God continues to call. This means that the reason for the shortage is not God but us. We have not been faithful in listening, hearing, and answering the call of God. Vocation ministry, therefore, has to be focused on the work of conversion for all of us around the practice of listening, hearing, and answering God's call in our lives.
Step 1: Listening to God
Listening is the first step in our vocational discernment. When working in vocation ministry it is essential to realize that this ministry has nothing to do with recruitment. We do not need to convince men to become priests, we do not need to pressure anyone to follow this path. This work is already being done by God, and it is done perfectly. Our work is to help young men get into the habit of listening to God. This means teaching people how to pray, brining them to Christ, introducing them to the Word of God and the life of Jesus, and helping them become fascinated with Jesus Christ and with the Catholic faith. Young people are hungry for meaning, acceptance, and love. They will find all this and more in the person of Jesus Christ and in His Church. Listening to God is also a responsibility of those of us who have already found our vocation in life. We must continue to listen because God continues to speak.
Step 2: Hearing God
Hearing is the next step in the vocational discernment, and it has to do with a contemplative aspect of prayer, which is usually associated with the prayer of silence. Knowing what Jesus taught belongs to the function of listening, applying it to our lives belongs to the aspect of hearing. Teaching our young people how to meditate, spend time in silence, and reflect on how the word of god applies to their lives here and now is the work of hearing God's call.
Step 3: Answering God
Answering God's call has to do with the decisions we make that are shaped by our relationship with God. Teaching people how to make practical decisions shaped by their discipleship of Jesus is the work of answering God's call. This answering begins with the most simple of things: how we choose to live our daily lives in the area of purity, generosity, finances, faithfulness to prayer, proper relationships with family and friends, etc. Answering God's call in the everyday small areas of our life will prepare our young people to answer the vocational invitations from God.
It's not that difficult
Vocation ministry is really nothing too complicated, it is choosing to participate with the work of God who has never stopped calling men to the priesthood. All we really have to do is live a spirituality of ongoing conversion in our own lives, and bring our young p
eople to Jesus by teaching them to pray through listening, hearing, and answering God in their lives. If we are faithful to what we promise to do we will never have a shortage of vocations to the priesthood, religious life, and Christian marriage, because we will never have a shortage of faithful followers of Jesus.