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Q & A with Father Anthony

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What can we do about the vocation shortage in the United States?

Marian asks:

Dear Fr Anthony,

I have a few questions to ask you. There is a lot of talk of how there is a shortage of vocations in the United States. How do you feel about this? Do you think that there is anything we as Catholics can do to help the numbers increase, or help those who think they have a vocation? Also, do you think that this is like a cycle and there will be a booming number of vocations in the future?


Dear Marian,

It is painfully true that the numbers of priests, seminarians and religious in the US have dropped. Not everywhere, since there are some dioceses that now have more vocations than ever, but in general despite a recent upswing we are not at former levels. And all the while the number of Catholics has grown.
This has led people to various conclusions some of which border on the bizarre. Some speak about the problem in purely sociological terms: there are less people available to do more work so the future holds the promise of nothing but increased pressure, reorganization and redistribution of personnel, and a harried, overworked clergy fighting an unwinnable battle. Their answers to the problem are also mainly sociological: change the rules so that the priesthood will be more attractive and we'll get more. Others figure that since God is in charge, the vocational shortage is his doing, and it means he is leading us to a 'less clerical' future in which Providence has pegged the priest as a vanishing breed to make the lay person come into his/her own. So for them the problem needs no more solution, it's a non-problem; it's the way to go.

Here is an alternative line of thought. The lack of clergy has acted as a trigger, making many lay people wake up to their baptismal privilege and responsibility: every baptized person partakes of the Priestly, Prophetic and Kingly mission of Jesus Christ. The new breath of the Holy Spirit in the Church, inspiring an astounding variety of lay Movements and apostolates has come just at the right time. As a result more lay people are taking personal responsibility for the Church, and doing much of what they expected Father or Sister to do in the past. Their reaction is no longer “the Church should do something about that” but “I have to do something”.

Is this awakened sense of the lay person's call to holiness and apostolate the death-knell for clergy? Does an active laity mean we need fewer priests? Quite the contrary. We need more, since priesthood is service, not privilege. A lax Catholic needs a priest only occasionally, perhaps Mass every other Sunday, Confession only rarely... while a fervent, active Catholic will seek Mass even daily, feel the need for Reconciliation frequently, and being educated he will seek reasons and answers, look for spiritual direction, advice, support, instruction…, all from a priest.

The active Catholic will also seek the support of those who dedicate their whole lives to prayer, the contemplatives. He will have a sense of the communion and complementarity that exists among the different vocations in the Church, and will see the need for those who live for God alone, to the exclusion of everything else. He will pray that God will enrich the Church, and help him personally, by calling many.

But this increased fervor of the lay people, especially the young, the changes it means in their lives and their families, will itself foster vocations. The better we follow Christ, the more we will pray for vocations and the more there will be, since God will answer those prayers he has inspired in us. When a local Church is fervent God always blesses it with souls who consecrate their whole lives to him: as priests, nuns, consecrated lay people, contemplatives...
So I think the best thing we can do to help vocations is to try to live a holy and active Christian life, and pray for the vocations we need. Then, there are a few other practical things we can do.

One, if you are young ask yourself if he might not be calling you.

Two, if you know someone who might have a vocation pick a good moment and tell them so.

Three, do everything you can to help young people learn about their faith and practice it.

Four, do everything you can to help young people avoid the damaging experiences many may meet when growing up, and prepare them to be strong in the face of those that cannot be avoided.


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