Healthy families, parish communities foster vocations

By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

If God called men to the priesthood by reaching down and tapping them on the shoulders, we would not be lacking for vocations.

But the "call" is much more subtle than that, and responding to it requires a good measure of human encouragement. Vocations are seldom the result of visions, dramatic miracles or near-death experiences. Instead, nurtured by others, they grow quietly and gradually. Like seedlings which receive the necessary sunlight and water to mature into beautiful trees.

Consider the case of Kent Drotar, who I will ordain this Saturday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Kent did not fully understood what God wanted of him until he was a 30-something commander in the U.S. Air Force. The factors that helped him discern his vocation were neither lightning bolts nor visions – they were prayers and people.

I want to draw your attention to the telling results of a recent study on vocations, which you may have read about in last week's Register. Simply put, the study, conducted by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, demonstrated that parishes offering many opportunities to participate in the life and tradition of the Church are more likely to produce priests than parishes which do not.

Parishes producing multiple vocations in the past 20 years are 15 to 22 percent more likely to have Marian or Eucharistic devotions than parishes producing no vocations. They are 36 percent more likely to have Catholic elementary schools, 18 to 20 percent more likely t o have more than one priest assigned to the parish.

This all makes sense. But I think the study implies something less obvious. Any parish's spiritual climate is largely dependent on the practices and attitudes of the parish's many families. Involved faith-filled families make for active, faith-filled parishes – parishes likely to produce priests. Therefore, our homes are the primary places for the renewal of vocations.

This cannot be understated. I don't think it's a coincident that the decline in religious vocations in the United Stated mirrors the decline in the traditional family structure. Pope John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consorts that "the future of humanity passes by way of the family". So if we wish to transform our culture– and create a culture conducive to priestly vocations– we must first transform our families. Our homes must be the true domestic Church, where the faith assumes the kind of centrality long ago abdicated to television sets and other temporal distractions.

One of the great blessings of the Second Vatican Council is a renewed interest among lay people in their own vocation, not only in the world but in the Church. Encouraging vocations to the priesthood and religious life is an important part of every Catholic's vocation. This does not in any way contradict active lay involvement in the church. In fact, the Church is richer by all these complementary vocations working together for the glory of God and the proclamation of the Gospel.

There is reason for optimism here in our own archdiocese. We currently have 18 new applicants wishing to study for the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Denver. I do not know how many of these applications will come to fruition but the Lord is giving us a good number of men who are considering serving the Church in this generous way.

The Holy Spirit has not stopped calling young men to priesthood, but the Church only gets the vocations it deserves. Sometimes, we have failed to create conditions – in our culture, in our parishes, in our families, in ourselves– that draw young men to the priesthood. Those seedling vocations too often fall on barren soil.

Our challenge is to become the water and sunlight that help vocations grow. We need to support and encourage those sensing a call to the priesthood, through prayers, words, and by being true to our own vocations.

If we help prepare the way, there will be many, many men willing to give themselves body and soul to the ministry of the priesthood within the Church.