Why so many Catholics might not pray for vocations any more
There are two types of Catholic, I think: the select few who enthusiastically pray for Vocations – with a capital V – and everyone else, who at best pay lip-service to the intention. I’m not talking about individuals who have lost their faith but about something that is arguably more disturbing.
Of course, there are those in the Church who have become disillusioned, not least among the overstretched clergy; and it’s clear why some might feel defeated by the demands of their role, as the age profile of the clerical workforce creeps up, their numbers fall and yet the demands increase, simply in order to keep the system going – however unsustainable it may be.
But alongside the question of clergy morale, there is this. I would wager that there’s scarcely a Catholic parent in the country who would take the initiative to encourage their son to become a priest, any more than they would encourage their daughter to join a religious order, even if in time they might become supportive of their child’s choice.
So most individual families no longer pray for a vocation from among their own. But neither do most parishes. As far as I know, the community I serve has not produced a single priest, religious sister or brother in the 56 years since our building was completed. Is my parishioners’ apparent failure spontaneously to pray for vocations simply a matter of honesty; recognition that, given that they wouldn’t want it for their own sons, praying for others to supply the need would be rather hypocritical? “Dear God, please send someone else,” is an ancient prayer, but not a very noble one.
What about myself? Should I as a pastor be the one storming heaven with prayer for vocations, since – on a good day – I’m personally not trying to dodge the call? While I do not regret my choice and am delighted to welcome others who discern a call to ordination, personally I’d rather pray for the vocation of the community than for the sending of a new cleric from elsewhere. If a congregation has a healthy understanding of the call of each member to use their gifts in the service of all, then there is a hope of new individual vocations to ordained ministry and lay pastoral leadership being recognised, supported and brought to fruition – assuming we don’t narrow the selection criteria too much before we start. Instead of searching among the thinning ranks of twenty- and thirty-something unattached males at Sunday mass, we need to look to those within the community who already live as disciples, fully involved and committed, with a habit of prayer and a life of service, for signs of the Lord supplying our need.
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Fr Rob Esdaile is parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes, Thames Ditton, Surrey, England.
With thanks to The Tablet and Fr Rob Esdaile, where this article originally appeared.