"COME FOLLOW ME"
All Christians are called to follow Jesus Christ...to do the best they can to imitate His life in living their own. Within the Christian family, some are called to imitate Him in an exclusive way. They group together as Diocesan Priests or as members of Religious Congregations of Sisters, Brothers and Priests. Their relationship with Him is given practical expression in meeting the needs of the community through educational, health, social and related services. Of course others meet the same needs too but not in an exclusive manner. In other words Clergy and Religious dedicate their lives to personal relationship with Jesus Christ and service of His people. These we describe as following “a Religious Vocation". It is no secret that in recent years the numbers offering themselves to follow such a life-style are practically nil. There is no one or simple explanation for this reality. The following would be influential factors in that decline:-
SECULARISM certainly plays a part. Religion prospers when it is in harmony with culture; it swims on the tide of the local culture. Ireland has been an obvious example of that reality. Of its nature, being an island community, for generations Ireland was not immediately or easily influenced by forces that held a different opinion as to what should or should not have a bearing on society. Modern Ireland is now part of a shrinking world, where instant communication of vast amounts of information tends to form the basis of people's thinking and value system. Outside, secular values are enthusiastically promoted by inside powerful secular sources, which proclaim that religion and religious values are private matters and therefore should have no place or say in society. Such an atmosphere is not conducive to the development of Religious Vocations. MATERIALISM is a further element militating against hearing 'THE CALL" to God's service. In a strange way this is not altogether a bad thing. Too often in the past poor economic circumstances led to unnatural numbers " joining the Church " as it was described. Families took great pride in having a member in those ranks. A mother was quoted as saying 'if he doesn't get a job in the Post Office, we'll send him to Maynooth". In too many cases it was the family that had 'the vocation'. Third world economically poor countries today are bursting with "vocations" as was the case here in the past. The majority of ours were genuine; may the same be true of these "Callings"?. In today's Ireland the lure of a materialistic life-style and the accompanying decline in family religious belief and practice are drowning out any leanings towards a spiritual and altruistic way of life. INDIVIDUALISM equally hinders any such altruistic or religious considerations. "ME, MYSELF AND I" tend to dominate people's thinking and decisions. Most organisations are living with the reality of elderly membership and a dearth of the younger generations. Volunteerism, long- term commitment, permanency and organised activities don't seem to enthuse the young. On the other hand young people are excellent at short-term projects and in times of crises and emergencies. Organised religious life does not float their boats.
The decline is not fully explained by these external factors. The Church, in the persons of the priests and religious must shoulder some responsibility too. Immediately the sexual scandals spring to mind. This sad reality has unhinged the standing of the Church in the minds of many and rightly so. It is not for us to set out a defence; there is none.
We know the vast majority live and work 'above board' but the good done must not be used to balance out the evil. Both realities must be acknowledged; both will be part of our story forever. The decline in vocations was evident before these damaging revelations (damaging to victims and their families). These evil actions greatly accelerated the process.
On a different level priests and religious may have unconsciously discouraged others in their choice of vocation. Too often they were defined and in truth defined themselves in terms of the WORK THEY DID rather than the PEOPLE THEY WERE. Life dedication to a particular WORK is not an attractive proposition. Much of that work (teaching, nursing, social services etc.) is now catered for by excellent and dedicated lay people. Priests and religious are not FUNCTIONARIES but rather DISCIPLES whose lives are centred on relationship with Jesus Christ. Their only function is to draw others into that living relationship so that His power and presence transform the face of this world.
That is a worthwhile project to which to dedicate a life. That is why there should be no such thing as a retired priest or a retired religious. Retired from the WORK or the FUNCTION yes but not from the only purpose of their lives- to cultivate in themselves and ,through their work, in those they serve, a living , personal friendship with the Risen Jesus Christ, Who alone gives meaning to all the happenings of life. Young people will be attracted to this way of life if they are shown it in action. The WORK OF THE LORD must lead to friendship with the LORD OF THE WORK. St. Paul said “How will they know if nobody tells them?" OVER TO US!
“The life and death of each of us has its influence on others; if we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord, so that alive or dead we belong to the Lord”.
If the Lord invites you to follow Him in humble obedience as a priest or in the consecrated life, how will you respond? If the Spirit is prompting you to know Christ as a priest, or in the consecrated life, speak to your local priest, or call your Diocesan Vocation’s Director, or email the National Vocations Office on firstname.lastname@example.org