MCNEILLIE: How to get lots and lots of priests, sisters and nuns

August 14, 2018

If we want to create a culture of vocations, we need to start with a culture of discipleship. If we want lots of priests and nuns, we have to start with helping our youth have a personal relationship with Jesus. 

For some time now, vocations ministry has shifted the focus from mere recruiting to the long-term goal of creating a vocations culture — “an atmosphere in which young Catholics are open to a personal invitation to discern accurately and embrace freely the form of permanent commitment in the the Church to which they are being called (Third Continental Congress on Vocations in North America).” In other words, we want to create an environment in which it’s normal for young people to ask themselves: “is God calling me to be a priest or a sister?” Just that question alone would help lots of young people discover their calling. 

But before you go out and ask every young person in sight that all-important question, please consider the following: no one seriously considers that question unless they are a committed friend of God. The problem isn’t that young people don’t ask themselves if they are called to be a priest or sister. The problem is that many young people don’t have a committed friendship with God; they are not yet disciples of Jesus. We don’t have a vocational crisis in the Church; we have a discipleship crisis in the Church. Young people are leaving us in droves. 

You can find the heart-wrenching statistical details and the solution — relationship with Jesus — in Sherry Weddell’s book, “Forming Intentional Disciples.” Instead of describing the spiritual life in three mysterious stages of grace, Weddell speaks of five stages of commitment/discipleship. According to her research, most of the faithful in the pews every Sunday are in the beginning stages of discipleship. So it would be a mistake to take one of these beginners — a casual Sunday-goer — out of the pews and burden him or her with running the parish festival.

Likewise, it would be a mistake to get a merely curious young man to make a lifelong commitment to priesthood. Both the casual church-goer and the merely curious young man have to grow in their relationship and their commitment to following Jesus before they can take on serious missions (the same, by the way, should be said about marriage). This is undoubtedly why Daniel Cardinal DiNardo asks each candidate before ordination: “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”

Disciples are women and men who have encountered Jesus and are committed to loving him no matter what. They are the ones who are willing to pick up their cross and follow Him (Mk 8:34). Disciples and those seeking to be disciples are the ones who will seriously ask themselves: “Could God be calling me to be a priest or sister?” So, in order to get young people to ask that question — in order to foster a culture of vocations — we have to first help them on their way to discipleship. 

Father Richard McNeillie is the new director of the Archdiocesan Office of Vocations. He began his assignment in July 2018.