Friday, June 29, 2012

Priests in the third millennium

While any vocation to the priesthood is a gift from God, the future of the priesthood also depends on the present coherence of Christian life in families, parishes, communities and priests themselves, who must help create a space that encourages young men to consider priestly life in an often discouraging world. 

Four years in the making, this Monday the Congregation for Catholic Education presented a guideline to help local churches promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life. 

The 27-page document is divided into three main parts that tackle the state of vocations in today’s world, the vocation and identity of priesthood and suggestions for the promotion of vocations to priestly life.

The document is the result of a questionnaire sent out across the universal Church following the 2008 plenary assembly of the Congregation and was drawn up in collaboration with Congregations for the Evangelization of Peoples, for the Oriental Churches, for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and for the Clergy.

Describing the current situation of priestly vocations as “good and bad”, the document begins by focusing on traditionally Christian countries in the West. 

In notes how unbridled consumerism, falling birth-rates and a fall in religious practice have led to a decline in vocations and an increasingly elderly pool of priests to serve the Church.

It puts this down to a series of reasons that leads to young men ignoring a vocation to priestly ministry: the spreading of a secularized mentality that discourages the response of young people to follow the Lord Jesus more radically and more generously; parents, who “reserve little space to the possibility of a call to a special vocation”; the gradual marginalization of the priest in social life, with the consequent loss of his relevance in the public sphere. These elements include "a tendency towards the progressive transformation of the priesthood into a profession". 

This can be associated with "the danger of exaggerated activism, an increasing individualism which not infrequently closes priests in a perverse and depressing solitude, and the confusion of roles in the Church which comes about when we lose the sense of distinction between roles and responsibilities, and not everyone comes together to collaborate in the one mission entrusted to the People of God".

“Furthermore, in many places the choice of celibacy is questioned. Not only a secularized mentality, but also erroneous opinions within the Church bring about a lack of appreciation for the charism and the choice of celibacy”.

It states that “however much the pastoral ministry for vocations in Europe and in the Americas is organized and creative, the results obtained do not correspond to the efforts made”. 

Instead it says that “where clear and challenging proposals of Christian life are offered”, particularly through new evangelisation initiatives that are carried out in cooperation with the domestic Church, there are signs of recovery.

Again and again the document returns to the first form of Christian life and community – the family, parish and movement or association. It states young people are more open to God’s call when they are presented with a strong example of Christian life in the home, or wider community. 

Moreover, young men often feel encouraged to consider a vocation as a result of the “joyful witness of the priests” they have encountered in their lives.The Congregation suggests that pastoral ministry of vocations must offer boys and young men a Christian experience where they can know first hand the reality of God Himself. This means making families aware of the important role they play in forming a vocation. 

It encourages an experience of community life before entrance to the seminary and underlines the importance of a clear understanding of the commitments the priesthood entails, in particular with regard to celibacy. 

It concludes, “fostering vocations to the priesthood is a constant challenge for the Church” in particular, “a welcome for the call of God to ministerial priesthood”.

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