We need priests! Honestly, this should probably be posted on the wall of every church vestibule, bingo and social hall everywhere. The number of priests in the United States has dramatically decreased over the last 60 years, and its impact has been realized in nearly every diocese. While there are some seminaries booming, most bishops are grateful to ordain one to five men to the priesthood annually. Some don’t even get to ordain a man to the priesthood at all.
We need not panic; our Church will sustain because God always provides. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do our part to help. I am very fortunate to have grown up in a home where the priesthood was a viable future for me. As a young boy I enjoyed serving Mass and I told my dad when I was nearly in high school that I thought God may be calling me to serve Him and His Church as a priest. This is where I need to give credit to my earthly father for being courageous enough to encourage me. I hear so many times from young men whose families have dissuaded them by telling them that they’d be wasting their lives not having a family or worse yet, that the parents wouldn’t get to have grandchildren upon which they could dote. The current state of priestly vocations seems to be in crisis primarily because for a few decades, few Catholic families fostered priestly vocations at home.
Now, my dad told me to talk to our parish priest, mention it at school to my counselor, and willingly took me to high school vocations events at the local seminary. Our pastor said he’d pray for me and talk to me on occasion about my journey, my school counselor gave me a book by a local priest about discerning vocations, and those vocations events really established a vast number of friendships I have with priests about my age in the diocese who happened to be there as well. Long story short, God called me to have a family, but I was only able to hear that call because no one told me I couldn’t be a priest, then God’s voice became clear. Fostering priestly vocations at home requires openness.
Here I am, almost 25 years later, and God has blessed me and my wife with three incredible sons. I know I’m biased, but they really are great! My oldest, who is ten, has begun to actively discern the priesthood, as much as a fourth grader can. He has a beautiful devotion to his namesake, Saint John Bosco, loves serving Mass, and desires to go to confession of his own volition. But as pious as this may be, he still is a ten-year-old boy who also loves football, video games, and weird people on YouTube. I have mindfully encouraged him to be open to the call and to take his faith seriously. He has many other influences outside of his family, and I know not all of them are good. Always returning to faith at home and at school is how we encourage him in discernment. In addition to all of our sons’ patron saints, we ask for the intercession of Saint John Vianney as well on a daily basis. This simply keeps the conversation of priesthood, and powerful prayers from Communion of Saints, coming. Fostering priestly vocations at home requires encouragement and prayer.
Finally, the last bit of this is for everyone. Holy priests typically come from homes where the faith is lived, not talked about. Some don’t have that blessing at home, but most priests you may talk to describe the faith their parents instilled in them through regular Mass attendance, praying as a family, and honest conversations about how best to live life. Being Catholic isn’t a religion, it’s a lifestyle. Every situation in life, large or small, demands the influence of our faith. The Catechism is the resource we have, aside from Sacred Scripture and prayer, to go to when we have questions or doubts about what is best. All of us have the universal call to holiness, and when we whole-heartedly pursue holiness, we find joy. Joy is contagious; it’s what the heart was made to experience through loving God. Every time we choose the good, people notice. People notice the joy. People notice the love. People notice what is real. Fostering priestly vocations everywhere requires authenticity.
Be open. Be encouraging and prayerful. Be real. God calls us to be holy. Holy Mother Church needs young men to be courageous enough to answer His call. Let’s all do our part to help them find the joy of wholeness in Truth in a world that is so broken, desperate for the outpouring of the Sacramental Love of Jesus Christ, offered by His priesthood on Earth.