THEME: Vocation Crisis: The Elephant in the Room?

BY: Fr. Anthony O. Ezeaputa, MA.



Today is Mother’s Day, and I’d like to wish all our mothers a blessed and happy Mother’s Day, especially those in our parish family. We love you all, dear mothers, and want you to know that you are in our thoughts and prayers today and every day.
We are all aware of the declining Catholic population, which is reflected in the global shortage of men discerning Catholic priests and also in men and women aspiring to the consecrated life. The reasons for this exceptional loss of population and the declining number of priests and consecrated men and women are controversial.

In the United States, for example, the roots of the declining Catholic population and the shortage of priests and consecrated persons have been traced to several factors, including the difficulty of celibacy, the struggle with the long-term commitment needed of Catholic priests, and, of course, the clergy abuse scandal, to name a few. But those who attribute it to our ever-changing culture, specifically shrinking family size and shifting family priorities, cannot be far from “the elephant in the room,” as the expression goes, because the family is the lifeblood of society.

“If today the average number of children is 1.5”, Pope Benedict XVI reasoned, “the question of possible priests takes on a very different role from what it was in ages when families were considerably larger.” The main obstacle, he continued, was parents “who have very different expectations for their children.” In addition, so many parents have not taken seriously their responsibility to raise their children in accordance with God’s will, as revealed by his Son, Jesus Christ, and taught by his Church.

To encourage more vocations in the Church, especially to the priesthood, the Church sets every Fourth Sunday of Easter as the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. “I am the good shepherd, says the Lord; I know my sheep, and mine know me” (John 10:14).

The Good Shepherd Sunday is set aside every year for the public realization of the instruction of the Lord to “Pray the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38; Luke 10:2). It is a day on which we beseech God to fulfill the promise he made to us through the Prophet Jeremiah (3:15), “And I will give you shepherds after my own heart who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”

Interestingly, our upbringing and family clearly have a huge impact on who we become and the decisions we make. This is true not only for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, but also for all other professions and careers. As it is said, “the apple does not fall far from the tree.”

In most cases, a child’s decisions and choices are influenced by his or her parents, teachers, and community. It is normal that a child will aspire to follow in the footsteps of his family, relatives, and neighbors. So, our life decisions reflect our families, communities, and, most importantly, our upbringing.

And so, if we want to see better and more holy vocations in the Church, we need to go back to the drawing board, to a healthy and Christian family life: a family in which parents, grandparents, and godparents make it a priority to raise their children in the faith. A family in which the divine life given to each of us at baptism is shielded from the poisons of bad influences and grows ever stronger in our hearts. No wonder the Second Vatican Council teaches that “the family is, so to speak, the domestic church” (LG, 11).

By describing the family as the “domestic church,” the Council Fathers are saying that it is in the context of the family that we first hear the voice of God and learn to follow it. It is in the family that we learn who God is and then seek His will for us in prayer.

The family is supposed to be the first place where children, baptized Christians, learn all about their faith and how to live their faith. It is the duty of parents to teach their children about our faith through words and actions. It is also the duty of parents to encourage their children to look for the vocations that are right for them, especially those for the priesthood and consecrated life (LG, 11).

As the expression goes, “Nemo dat quod non habet,” literally meaning “no one can give what they do not have.” If you want to be a good parent, listen to the voice of God speaking to you in the Bible and Sacred Traditions, which are expressed in the doctrines of the Church and taught by the bishops, priests, deacons, and other ministers in the Church. As our Gospel passage (John 10:27-30) declares, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Let us recognize that each of us, especially parents, has a special role in the realization of the instruction of the Lord to “Pray the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38; Luke 10:2). We can do this by making our families into domestic churches.

Here are some suggestions on how to build your “domestic church” through a life of prayer that can help all the members of your family.

• Begin praying as a family and reading Scripture daily, certainly before meals, but also first thing in the morning or before bed.
• Pray a Family Rosary and let each member of your family lead a decade.
• Make the sacraments a regular celebration by taking the whole family to confession and Mass.
• You can download Catholic apps for free that feature the saint of the day.
• Teach stewardship and charity to your children through word and example.
• Demonstrate love for your spouse, your children, your neighbors, and the world.
• Remind your children that they are loved by God and have been given gifts to serve others.
• Talk freely about the presence of God in the joys and sorrows of your life.
• Participate in the lay ministries and activities of your parish community.

Unfortunately, there are some parents, stepparents, and grandparents, even teachers and guardians, who have followed these suggestions but have yet to see the results. Please don’t give up. According to Ecclesiastes 3:11, God answers every prayer in its own time.

May Saint Monica of Hippo be a source of consolation for you. She dedicated about seventeen years of her prayerful life to the conversation of her wayward son, Augustine, who later became a bishop and a saint. May they intercede for you.

Nevertheless, it is by following the above-mentioned suggestions that we will make our families domestic churches and will raise virtuous and holy men and women for God and our community. Additionally, some of them may go on to become the good and holy priests and consecrated men and women that we so desperately need.

Once more, happy Mother’s Day to all mothers. May the souls of the faithful departed, especially our mothers, who have gone before us to be with the Lord, rest in peace. Through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen! Happy Sunday!

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