In a report submitted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations at the beginning of this year, findings stated that 81 percent of men and women religious reported that someone along their path had encouraged them to consider a religious vocation.
More detailed numbers show that 46 percent of the time it was a religious sister or brother who was doing the encouraging. Next most likely? A parish priest. Then a friend. Only at that point on the list do we reach “mother,” “parishioner” and “father.” To break those numbers down even further, 29 percent of men and women religious reported that they were encouraged to consider religious life by their mother, 24 percent by a fellow parishioner and 23 percent by their father.
When it comes to building up the Church, we all have a part to play.
In addition, about two-thirds of the respondents, or 62 percent, reported some kind of discouragement from joining religious life — usually from other relatives or friends, but often enough from their parents (26 percent mother, 21 percent father).
Statistics in another CARA report show that ordinands (those studying to be priests) were more likely to receive encouragement to investigate the priesthood from friends (46 percent) than they were their mother (34 percent) or father (28 percent).
In a 2010 interview, Austin Bishop Joe S. Vásquez emphasized the importance of personal invitation in increasing numbers of vocations. “A parish priest can have an effect on young men in the parish when he personally invites a young man to think about a vocation to the priesthood,” he said.
But it’s not just priests who carry weight. When it comes to building up the Church, we all have a part to play.
Our Protestant brothers and sisters, worshipping in small and more independent communities, understand this well. Their autonomy leads them to adopt a sense of ownership over their spiritual community that Catholics lack. Catholics, rather, tend to view their local parish not so much as “our church,” but rather as a member of the “institutional Church.”
To overcome this temptation, Catholics must strive to build a communio — where each part of the Church’s body works together to serve the Lord. This includes vocational awareness and encouragement. Each of us, be it fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters or fellow Catholics in the pew, have a personal responsibility when it comes to encouraging vocational discernment. It starts in the family, the basic cell of our society. We must witness through strong, permanent marriages. We must welcome religious sisters and priests into our home. We are called to pray for them and for those in the discernment process. As disciples working to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and to build up his kingdom, this is our call. And it’s not one that can be left to the few, but one that must be embraced by the many.
In anticipation of the 51st World Day of Prayer for Vocations next month, Pope Francis said: “No vocation is born of itself or lives for itself. A vocation flows from the heart of God and blossoms in the good soil of faithful people, in the experience of fraternal love.”
“The true joy of those who are called consists in believing and experiencing that he, the Lord, is faithful, and that with him we can walk, be disciples and witnesses of God’s love, open our hearts to great ideals, to great things,” he added. “I ask you bishops, priests, religious, Christian communities and families to orient vocational pastoral planning in this direction, by accompanying young people on pathways of holiness.”
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor