As this week’s issue attests, there is much good news to report regarding vocations.
However counterintuitive it may seem, we have witnessed a resurgence of vocations since the sexual abuse scandals. A new generation of priests — energized by World Youth Day, by evangelization movements and by the powerful witness of our popes — is coming of age.
In addition, we have many foreign-born priests who have stepped into the breech as priestly retirements empty rectories. These men have left family and friends in order that we have access to the sacraments.
New priests today are often stereotyped as being more conservative than their immediate predecessors. Such generalizations fail to do justice to the variety of ways these young men have experienced their vocational call, however, and how they have lived out their vocation in the world after ordination.
What is needed today are parishioners who pray for their priests on a regular basis.
They are bringing a new energy to liturgy and prayer, to social justice and youth outreach and public witness. And as their priestly experience deepens, their pastoral hearts grow. For all of these blessings, we should give thanks to God.
Yet we are not out of the woods yet. In many dioceses, more priests will be retiring in the next decade than will be replaced by the newly ordained. These dedicated and energetic young men have answered the Lord’s clarion call for more workers in his vineyards. It is critical that they are not overworked until they burn out prematurely but are refreshed, renewed and strengthened for a long life of service. Once upon a time, an associate pastor may have served as understudy for 10 or 20 years before becoming a pastor. Today, in many dioceses, it is much more likely that a young man will get his own parish within three to five years.
This acceleration of responsibility is handled well by many, but every diocese has stories of young men — often very idealistic and orthodox — who walk away in the first several years of their priesthood. In addition, middle-aged priests who have often served for years but slowly burn out under the weight of expectations and responsibilities sometimes call it quits as well. We have too few priests to be so extravagantly neglectful of the vocations with which we have been blessed. Many dioceses are recognizing this, and they are seeking ways to support their men. Fellowship, retreats, ongoing spiritual formation and the sharing of best practices are all necessary. Some dioceses are bringing in priestly support programs like “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” from the Catholic Leadership Institute to strengthen priestly management and leadership skills. Renewal movements like Cursillo or priestly fraternities are offering opportunities for spiritual refreshment.
But the laity must be engaged as well. We who are the lay members of the People of God cannot sit in our pews and be passive spiritual consumers of parish services. Parishioners often do a good job of complaining about what a parish doesn’t do for them or how the pastor is letting them down. Yet what is needed today are parishioners who pray for their priests on a regular basis. What is needed today are not just financially generous parishioners but fellow Catholics who extend fellowship to their priests, who avoid gossip, who work beside them and for them to meet the many demands of parish life. The good Lord is blessing us with vocations even though more are needed. What is expected of us now, however, is to support the men we have been given. Ask not what your priest can do for you. Ask what you can do for your priest.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor