The Catholic Church in the United States is enduring a protracted vocation crisis. Numbers of priests dwindle even as the Catholic population increases. Many clergy as well as lay apostolates such as the SERRA Club and parish vocations committees have done much to stem the tide in an effort to encourage young men to discern the priesthood. As a result many men have heard and responded to God’s call. Vocation ministry is a necessary and beautiful work (and it’s one in which I am personally involved), but it will inevitably be a classic case of “too little, too late” if we fail to do more for and within the most important institution responsible for fostering vocations to the priesthood—the family.
Above all else, it is the family that must manifest a fervent commitment to creating and fostering a culture of vocation. This commitment begins in the home and extends and radiates outward impacting the various small communities in which families are involved—parishes, clubs, and schools, for example. The family, Saint John Paul II taught, is “the primary and most excellent seedbed of vocations to a life of consecration to the Kingdom of God.” It is the Christian family that strives to live the faith fervently, that is open to a life of service, and that fulfills its duties to God and neighbor that becomes the rich soil that gives rise to children open to priesthood and religious life.
Since the priesthood is a life of service, the primary effort of the family that becomes a seedbed of vocations is that it ardently embraces the first vocation of each person—the sincere gift of self, an ardent love that makes of oneself an oblation to God and neighbor. Above all else, and in everything, the family must be a school of love where love is learned through word and deed. Further, the faith must be lived with great vigor. If the Gospel is not taught and lived in the home, if the members of the family do not embrace the truth that freedom is for a life of virtue, it will be difficult for our children to grow up with a sense of mission, of being called to a vocation. These are necessary conditions if the family is to be the primary seedbed of vocations.
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Yet this is no easy task especially in light of the various struggles faced by the family today not least of which was recently noted by Pope Francis who said that the devil, “attacks the family so much. The demon does not love it and seeks to destroy it.”
The solution to the vocations crisis is the renewal of the family in a generic sense. But, especially vital is the renewal of my family, of your family. Our families must embrace the call to create a culture of vocation. One of the best ways to do this in the home is by praying specifically for vocations in the daily prayers of a family. However, how we do this can be more or less effective. We tend to pray prayers for an increase in vocations to the priesthood as if the vocation crisis is to be solved by others without a full embrace of personal or familial responsibility: “God please give us more vocations to the priesthood … but let it be someone else’s son.” It ought not be so. We must each ask God to make our family a vocation powerhouse. We need to pray that our families become that seedbed of vocations in words that embrace our familial duty: “God choose from our home those who are needed for Your work, whatever that work may be. May our home and the homes of our children, truly be a most excellent seedbed of vocations, to a life of consecration to the Kingdom of God.”
As Saint John Paul II noted in his autobiography, it was his father’s witness to the faith in the midst of much hardship and societal strife that created “my first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary” that gave rise to his priesthood. Good priests, it seems to me, are most likely to come from good families and especially those that prioritize creating a culture of vocation in the home.
God plants the seed, but in order for the vocation to flourish and the harvest to be plenty the seedbed itself must be of rich, fine soil. The family is that seedbed and as with all seedbeds, the harvest will be poor if the soil is poor and the harvest will be plentiful if the soil is excellent. The vocations crisis is a symptom of a prior crisis of the family. The domestic Church, therefore, is called to recover and live its innate vocation to recognize God’s guiding hand in family life and to foster the ability to perceive and respond to God’s call in freedom. Each family must faithfully foster a culture in which young people can hear and respond to the unique mission to which He calls each member.
The family, each family, with its innate mission to be a seedbed of vocations, is the solution to the vocations crisis.
Editor’s note: Pictured above are members of the Bergoglio family with Jorge Mario in his clerical dress.