Parents should be careful not to block their son’s calling to the priesthood, new Vatican guidelines on promoting vocations say.
“Even though a sense of respect for the figure of the priest is cultivated in Christian families, it is still noticeable, especially in the West, that they have a certain difficulty in accepting that their child may have a vocation to the priesthood,” said the document launched by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the Congregation for Catholic Education, at the Vatican June 25.
However, “if families are animated by a spirit of faith, charity and piety they become, as it were, an ‘initial seminary’ and they continue to offer favorable conditions for the birth of vocations.”
The 29-page document, entitled “Pastoral Guidelines for Fostering Vocations to the Priestly Ministry,” is the culmination of four years of work by the Congregation for Catholic Education. It draws together the responses received to a questionnaire issued to the universal Church in 2008.
The guidelines call on parishes to help parents become more aware of their role as “educators in the faith so as to develop in the heart of the family the human and supernatural conditions that make possible the discovery of a priestly vocation.”
While the Church around the world is seeing an overall rise in seminarians in recent years – including in North America – Europe continues to show a slow but steady decline.
The new guidelines also identify other stumbling blocks to discerning a priestly vocation. It points to the spread of secularism, the marginalization of the priest in social life “with consequent loss of his relevance in the public square,” a lack of appreciation of priestly celibacy, including by some Catholics, the fallout from Church scandals, and the bad example of some priests who exist in a “whirlpool of exaggerated activism” that can “weaken the shine of priestly witness.”
As for fostering new vocations, the document highlights the fruitfulness of families, schools, parishes and movements rooted in prayer.
“The experience of many local Churches is that young men, in large numbers, sense the call to the ministerial priesthood, especially where prayer is a constant and profound dimension of the community’s life,” it says.
As well as the family, Catholic parishes are emphasized as “the place par excellence where the Gospel of the Christian vocation is proclaimed” and “where the ideal of priestly ministry is presented.”
In this setting, priests are “crucial for openly suggesting priestly vocation to boys and young men” with the help of “a well –founded and effective educational program” that raises the question.
This role of openly suggesting a priestly vocation can also be undertaken by others in the parish and by current seminarians, since “no-one is better suited to evangelize young people than young people themselves.”
Interestingly, the document suggests that a vocation to the priesthood should not be suggested “to persons who, even though they are praiseworthy in their journey of conversion, show signs of being profoundly fragile personalities.”
In terms of priestly celibacy, it states that those considering the priesthood “should see with clarity the commitments he will have to take on” and that any discernment process should contribute “to healing any individual deviations from his vocation.”
Teachers in schools can also play a crucial role as they “can extend the family’s educational role by broadening cultural horizons.”
Meanwhile, the document observes that a young man’s college years are increasingly “becoming a fruitful period for young people with regard their life choices.”
Among its many other recommendations, the guidelines note that numerous priests were “part of the group of altar boys and have served at the altar” before going to seminary. It therefore suggests that “vocation ministry for priesthood gives special attention to altar boys” when promoting the priesthood.