A young man that I know is considering becoming a Catholic priest. He’s a junior at a fine college, studying electrical engineering. He’s been offered graduate scholarships to some of this country’s most prestigious universities. He’s handsome, athletic, and has a great sense of humor. In short, he’s one of those guys you could easily imagine happily married with kids, making a six-figure salary and living in a gated community on a golf course. But he believes that God has called him to another kind of life, a radically different life. He believes that Jesus Christ has called him to the priesthood. While his friends are dating and planning for life and work after college, this young man spends his weekends visiting seminaries and volunteering at a local soup kitchen.
Two thousand years ago, a group of men also heard the call of God to His greater purpose. Simple men, flawed and imperfect men, whose “yes” to God changed the world. They left their lives, their jobs and their families and, owning almost nothing, preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to an unbelieving and hostile world. For living out their call, they were imprisoned and tortured. Every one of them was killed for their belief in Christ. Their lives were laid down for the Savior they loved and Who had loved and died for them. Looking at this young man I know, I can see some of that same commitment and faith which empowered the Apostles to become more than the fishermen or tax collectors they had been before their calling. Does that make this young man unusual in today’s world? I don’t think so.
Young people want to change the world. They want to give themselves over to a great cause that will give meaning and purpose to their lives. So why are so few young people being called to religious life today? Why do we have a shortage of priests in America? In my own opinion, it’s because we Catholics aren’t teaching our children the Gospel of Christ. To begin with, we don’t know our own faith well enough to discuss it with our children. We can’t expect a couple of hours of religious education classes each week to ground our kids in the faith the Apostles died for. We have to know and to live out our faith each day as examples to them. When they come to us with questions about Jesus or His Church, we need to give them the right answers, or at least know where to find the right answers. Talking about Christ and our faith should be a natural part of family life, as natural as talking about school or sports. And yet how many of us have talked with our kids about Christ during the last week?
While family life is the garden that grows vocations to the priesthood and religious life, the larger Church also has to live up to her responsibility as the depository of our faith. Sunday homilies need to challenge us more. We need to leave Mass inspired by the truth of Christ and convicted of the changes we need to make in our lives in order to live out the truth of His Gospel. We need more Jesus and less Oprah, more courage to live as Christ and less fear that what we say or do as Christians might offend someone. Sometimes the truth isn’t easy to hear, but truth is what saves us and transfigures us into the God we adore. The Church needs to focus less on appearing “relevant” to a modern congregation and courageously proclaim Christ crucified. If we preach the Gospel, we’ll have vocations to the priesthood. If we live out that Gospel, we won’t be able to build enough seminaries to hold all the men called to serve Christ and His Church. We need fearless leadership within the Catholic Church in this country, to stand up for the Gospel, to challenge the Church to preach Jesus Christ to the modern world. As Catholics, we should pray that God will send us this leadership, these shepherds who can guide us out of the doldrums of the past generation. Throughout the history of our Church, God has raised up Saints among us whenever His Bride is in need of reformation. May our prayer for the Church our children will inherit be: “Lord, send us your Saints!”
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” —Proverbs 29:18