The National Catholic Review
Attracting young adults to priesthood and religious life
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Luke is a smart philosophy major who attended both a Jesuit high school and university. Good with people. Attends 10 p.m. Mass on Sundays. When I tell him he should really think about being a Jesuit, he is moved. “Honored” he says, stumbling as he strives to formulate a response. “Wow, Father. It’s really awesome that you’d even think of saying that to me. I’m really kind of amazed. There’s just one thing....” I’m thinking, celibacy? Poverty—an even bigger issue for young adults raised in a materialistic culture? Obedience? Luke goes on: “I don’t believe in God.”

Another young man, Matthew: a superlative Jesuit Volunteer, an Irishman filled not only with charm and blarney, but also with the virtues of hard work and persistence. He has put in a long year in an inner-city Catholic grade school; and the kids, teachers and staff all swear he can walk on water. He once stopped a food fight among the fourth graders by singing a song that made the kids laugh so hard they forgot why they were launching ketchup-dripping Tater Tots at one another. I ask him if he or any of his friends from the Jesuit college he attended had ever thought of being a Jesuit. “No,” Matt replies matter-of-factly, as if the answer is self-evident. I follow up, “Why wouldn’t a young man consider being a Jesuit today?” Matt: “I guess that as a priest you really can’t make your mark.”

To say we could use a few more priests, brothers and sisters is not meant to disparage lay people’s generosity and expertise in service of the Gospel. Thousands of young men and women are preparing for lay ministry in the church, and they may well be the model for future ministry. But vocations to the priesthood and religious life play a crucial symbolic and cultural role in the life of the people of God. In 1965 there were 299,349 priests, seminarians and religious for 46 million Catholics in the United States. In 2006, for 69 million Catholics, there were 120,938, and the vast majority of the priests and sisters were well into their 60s and 70s.

What can we do to foster in the imaginations of young adults the possibility that they could be priests or religious?

1. Engage young adults in the fascinating pursuit of God. We might assume that young adult Catholics know who St. Francis and St. Ignatius were. We do so at our peril. Few have ever heard of Catholic social teaching, let alone the Catholic intellectual or spiritual traditions. Contemporary young adults often know more about other faiths than they do about their “own” religious tradition.

And young adults, like many older Catholics, have difficulty grappling with the intellectual demands of our faith tradition. I tell undergrads that chemistry is easy compared with the intricacies of theological and biblical studies. Learning that Jesus may actually have been born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem, or that other ancient figures were “born of virgins” rocks the thinking of those who cannot understand the differences between the communicative truth of metaphor and literal truth. To suggest that the good Samaritan may have been a figure only of Jesus’ imagination confuses those who cannot think on the complex levels necessary to understand the ramifications of parables.

Still, Catholics in their 20s can be energized to pursue the joyful intellectual undertaking that understanding the faith actually is. How? Give a young adult Catholic a good book on the faith, like Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God, James Martin’s A Jesuit Off-Broadway, or John Dear’s autobiography. Sit down with a young person and watch a movie that deals with religious issues (“Places in the Heart,” “The Mission,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Groundhog Day,” “Dogma” or oldies but goodies like “The Nun’s Story,” “The Cardinal,” “A Man for All Seasons” and “Chariots of Fire”). Further, engage young adults in what Tom Clancy, S.J., called the “conversational word of God.” Share with a young person what you believe and why. Accompany him or her to a good talk or workshop on the living of our faith and discuss it. Get them asking theological questions, and they may even rise up to read the Gospels, the catechism and Catholic social teaching on their own. We can even dare hope they engage Bernard Lonergan and Karl Rahner! Once they are turned on to the sheer wonder of good theological thinking, they will discover that reflecting on God is much more interesting than the mind-numbing hours they spend pushing the buttons of Halo 3 or Guitar Hero.

2. Service is often a way into conversations about how young adults will spend their lives. Vowed religious and diocesan priests should hang out where the young people are. Many years I spend a few weeks in August with J.V.C. volunteers as they prepare for their year of service. Chatting and hearing what is on young adults’ minds, one quickly realizes that latent in their year of service is often a deep desire to discover God’s will for their lives.

Those desires often need to be teased out and discerned, which is not an easy task for young adults who have lived in the blizzard of seemingly chaotic cultural changes. But conversations with such young men and women about their deepest, truest desires can transform imaginations. In such chats, we let the Matthews know that religious life is a way to allow God to help us “make a mark” on our world. The stories of our lives are filled with such marks.

3. Listen to stories and tell them. Culturally, we are the stories we listen to and tell. So pay attention to the tales that young adults consider important. Reading Harry Potter novels gives one common ground with millions of twentysomethings. “What’s your favorite movie?” is always a conversation starter. Young adults live in a media-filled world foreign to those of us who can remember when there were only three television channels. Do not decry and dismiss this virtual world of 30-second ads, Facebook, constantly texting cellphones and blinking video games. Rather, pay attention to what these cultural currents reveal about the young people immersed in them. God’s transformative loving grace pulsates in cyberspace. Those striving to seek God in all things must develop ways of conversing with the young adults who live there.

Listening to stories of people was the mission of those who carried the faith to lands where customs and languages differed from their home turf. Christians listened to people’s tales and told the story of “the Son of God [who] became one of us so that we might become God” (St. Athanasius).

Knowing that we are listening, young adults will eventually ask about, and listen to, the stories important to us. Just as we priests and religious men and women need to be ready to share our narratives, we need those who have had good experiences of brothers, sisters and priests in religious life to share with young adults the stories of how those people affected their lives. Parents, you can tell your son or daughter about the Jesuit who kept your life on track, or the Sister of St. Joseph who consoled you when your mother died. Aunts and uncles, you can tell your nephew or niece about the Sister of Mercy who serves the poor and homeless in your city, and how you support her work. Grandparents, you can tell your grandson or granddaughter about the nuns and priests who took your lower middle-class Irish or Italian or Polish immigrant community from poverty to comfortable lives by providing a thriving parish and school as the hub of neighborhood life. The young hunger for your history.

4. Be upfront and frank about chastity and sex. Celibacy does not pose the obstacle it did in the midst of the 1960s sexual revolution. Young adults, although tempted by an easy culture of “hooking up,” also yearn for the meaning and deep peace that comes from the practice of sexual sanity and fidelity. Love commitments that are congruent with our nature as persons, whose relationships mirror and monitor our relationship with God, are perceived dimly by those who have been burnt by the murky meaning of “friends with benefits.”

Religious should speak openly and often of the joys of the vow of chastity and of its challenges. The church’s teaching that chastity is the integration of our sexual powers (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2337) comes as good news to those oppressed by the “six-pack abs” and “body to die for” dictates of Maxim and Cosmopolitan. Celibate chastity grants one a freedom to be available and to love across a wide spectrum of friends and families that is less possible for those whose lives are lovingly focused on spouse and children. A celibate lifestyle also allows one to be present to others without the murky miscommunication inherent in lives lived at loose ends. When one is clear about who and what one is, others are better able to drop defenses and trust.

Most importantly, the embrace of celibacy’s gift of solitude opens one for commitment to the transformative practice of contemplative prayer. Someone who sleeps alone, whose nights will never be interrupted by a small child’s fear of monsters, has more time to pray every day. Prayer practiced regularly brings an abiding awareness of God in our lives. Prayer makes our desires and choices more easily and authentically attuned to God’s loving, leading guidance. Through prayer we learn who we deeply desire to be and what we truly want to do, revelations of who God wants us to be and what God needs us to do. Daily Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, lectio divina, Ignatian contemplation, centering prayer, the rosary—all such ways of prayer help us discover our true selves and thus to know God as companion and challenge.

We must also talk more openly about the challenges surrounding chastity and sexuality. Early in Jesuit life, celibacy was more of a front-burner issue for me. The thought of sleeping with a loving spouse could seem the solution to all life’s problems.

Today I listen to friends who are two or three decades into their marriages, and I am sure my life is no more challenging or difficult a path. Still, even though raising children can be demanding, the fact that no child of mine will ever live, play tee ball, or draw pictures for the refrigerator, tugs at my consciousness at times. One Jesuit I know said he did not really miss children, but he found himself missing the grandchildren he never had. For some, the peace and joy of solitude can become a real struggle with loneliness. Community life provides support and companionship, and as a Jesuit, I have been privileged to live with great men I would probably have never met otherwise. On the other hand, St. John Berchmans said he did no great penance: Jesuit community life was sufficient.

Christ calls us to live our lives heroically. Our sexual choices should make us admirable and authentic people, persons committed in love. Our faith is one of the signs and symbols pointing beyond the mere empirical realities they embody. In an overly sexualized culture, those who freely choose celibacy are indicators that there is much more to life than we can know or imagine. We are like fingers pointing to the mysterious moon, calling people to know that there is more to life than pleasure, possessions and power. Sexuality is part of who we are, but does not by itself determine who and what we become as persons. Relationships of all kinds, from family to friends to those we serve, much more make up the total reality of our lives.

We also have to speak openly and honestly of the “elephant in the living room,” or in the sacristy, as the case may be. In every diocese and religious community, there are gay men and women living and working as brothers, sisters and priests. In the wake of Donald Cozzens’s book The Changing Face of the Priesthood, and others’ reflections on homosexuals in the priesthood and religious life, many may think that religious life or priesthood is only for those who are homosexual. One young heterosexual man I know, on telling a friend he was entering a religious order, heard the reply, “Oh, I didn’t know you were gay.” This impression is troubling. If the perception is that religious life and priesthood are “just for gays,” many may never consider it as an option.

In my 30 years as a Jesuit, I have not found the issue of sexual orientation very discomfiting or stifling. Despite Jay Leno’s and Bill Maher’s jokes, religious life is not dominated by a gay subculture. In fact, in most cases I would not even know men in my community were gay unless they told me. Many heterosexual priests and religious have learned to be more appreciative and understanding of the gay men and women among us. Homosexuals are called and generously give their lives in service to a community where they are forever a minority. It is not an easy cross to bear. At times I have been challenged to learn and grow as a heterosexual called to a community where a number of my brothers in Christ were homosexual. But that has never been a major stumbling block or difficulty. Ultimately it does not matter whether one is gay or straight, as long as a person wants to live the vows, serve God’s people and proclaim the Gospel.

Furthermore, attitudes towards homosexuality and gays are radically different for those in their 20s than for those in their 60s. For the millennials, gays are an accepted, admired and liked part of their social and cultural lives. Gay characters are a staple on many popular television programs, and every college campus has a gay and straight club of some sort. Young adults are consequently much more interested in and able to handle these realities. It is our silence on such matters that is more likely to give them pause.

5. Be willing to talk about the hot-button issues honestly and creatively. More difficult to address, especially among college-educated Catholics, are the attitudes of some in the church concerning church teachings on birth control, homosexuality and women’s ordination. As a vocal minority of conservative Catholics trumpets its opposition to a “culture of death,” a large majority of young Catholics quietly walk away, unwilling to engage the self-righteous in debate on such matters. Many young Catholics see the gray in areas that a relatively small number of Catholics paint as black and white. The 30 million former Catholics in the United States, 10 percent of the country’s population, are often those who were never offered a subtle, intelligent and convincing presentation of the meaning of the faith. All they ever heard is what the church is against, never what the church is for.

As diocesan priests and religious, we support and accept the wisdom and guidance of the magisterium’s teachings on birth control, abortion, premarital sex and homosexuality, while pastorally dealing with the cultural situations the people we are sent to serve must confront. Sending a message that one can be just as pastoral and creative in applying the church’s teaching on these issues as we are on the teachings about social justice will attract many who, at this point, would not even consider a vocation to priesthood and religious life.

6. Five practical things we can do to help young people consider religious life or priesthood. (1) Pay for a young adult to go on a silent retreat. Religious life is at root a life of prayer. Many young people have never had an experience of the mysterious challenges and joys of silence. Giving them time and space for God to touch their consciousness is an invaluable gift. (2) Offer to help pay off college loans. Many never even consider priesthood or religious life because they come out of college carrying crippling debt. Give the gift of financial freedom to young adults, and see where God leads them. (3) Think about paying diocesan priests more. Salary in our culture is a measure of a person’s worth. Diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty, so pay them what they are worth. (4) Lovingly confront issues of race and class in your dioceses and communities. The United States in the not too distant future will be a society without any one majority group. Our religious communities should reflect the economic, ethnic and racial diversity of our society. (5) Strive to make the priesthood and religious life truly distinctive forms of living. Young adults want to give their lives to great and radical responses to the issues of our age.

I have found being a Jesuit priest a fascinating and extremely satisfying way of responding to life and God. As a young Jesuit, I met Bill Byron, S.J., the author of many books who at that time was president of The Catholic University of America. In casual conversation during a coffee break at some Jesuit meeting he said something I never forgot, “This is a great life, if you’re called to it.” Religiously tone deaf, too many young adults are missing the opportunity of a lifetime.

From the archives, Bernard Haring reflects on the priesthood.

Richard G. Malloy, S.J., is assistant professor of anthropology at Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, Pa., and author of A Faith That Frees (Orbis, 2007).

Comments

Bryan Carney | 8/9/2009 - 3:59am
As a studious young man, spiritually earnest yet harboring doubts, in the manner young men often mature; having served my parish as a youth, my Jesuit school community, and feeling called to a scholastic vocation, I wanted more than I then realized to live with the church.  The church, with its intractable yet understandable tradition, closed its doors to me.  As a young, gay man of 16, I was told that I wasn't just a product of my culture but a disordered soul.  I was made to yearn for the community of the Jesuits yet made an outcast.  Needless to say, the tacit sanction of public disavowal rendered against me and my homosexual schoolmates, by our church, was more than a mandate for personal turmoil but a psychological injury.  A decade later, having come to terms, not with atheism, but my resigned devotion to the faith - instilled prior to reason (and after the reason adulthood allows the person who loves knowledge - philosophy - freedom to come to independent conclusion, aided by the great servants to humanity - the philosophers and doctors of the church), I grieve for those who want a devotional life yet must still modulate their faith, post-modern condition notwithstanding, to the vicissitudes of temporal reality vis-a-vis Magisterium and Catechism.
Not only does the American, post-modern ethos necessitate a spiritual and philosophical convalescence, if one is even desired; not only must smart young men and women do this but their sexual nature, known to them as real as the mind St. Augustine made certain, must be rectified in solitude, far from the communion of society.  How do I know?  How do those, about to be cleaved from their own community of faithful, know?  Scio.  Sciunt.
The empirical truth of homosexuality, as a phenomenon extant in all of creation, will continue to oppose the infallible mind of man.  It saddens me that, despite the strength of the Church, elsewhere, and my belief that this is no apocalyptic danger to the Church, the great tradition of of the Jesuits, as bearers of the wisdom of the ancient world and educators to both princes and the poor, could be ruined as the glacier, intolerant to gravity, no longer retreats to the lowlands, trusting the mountain rain will replenish her.  Instead, she razes the mountain by the force of her intractability. 
I pray I live long enough to feel the Church open her arms to me, to women, to the prudent path of humane sexual expression (not forced sublimation - as a ransome paid by those who are called to Acts of Mercy and holy vocations).
Thank you for your time.  I hope my words are helpful and not misconceived confessions.
Bryan Carney | 8/9/2009 - 3:52am

As a studious young man, spiritually earnest yet harboring doubts, in the manner young men often mature; having served my parish as a youth, my Jesuit school community, and feeling called to a scholastic vocation, I wanted more than I then realized to live with the church. The church, with its intractable yet understandable tradition, closed its doors to me. As a young, gay man of 16, I was told that I wasn't just a product of my culture but a disordered soul. I was made to yearn for the community of the Jesuits yet made an outcast.

Needless to say, the tacit sanction of public disavowal rendered against me and my homosexual schoolmates, by our church, was more than a mandate for personal turmoil but a psychological injury.  A decade later, having come to terms, not with atheism, but my resigned devotion to the faith - instilled prior to reason (and after the reason adulthood allows the person who loves knowledge - philosophy - freedom to come to independent conclusion, aided by the great servants to humanity - the philosophers and doctors of the church), I grieve for those who want a devotional life yet must still modulate their faith, post-modern condition notwithstanding, to the vicissitudes of temporal reality vis-a-vis Magisterium and Catechism.

Not only does the American, post-modern ethos necessitate a spiritual and philosophical convalescence, if one is even desired; not only must smart young men and women do this but their sexual nature, known to them as real as the mind St. Augustine made certain, must be rectified in solitude, far from the communion of society. How do I know? How do those, about to be cleaved from their own community of faithful, know? Scio. Sciunt.

The empirical truth of homosexuality, as a phenomenon extant in all of creation, will continue to oppose the infallible mind of man. It saddens me that, despite the strength of the Church, elsewhere, and my belief that this is no apocalyptic danger to the Church, the great tradition of of the Jesuits, as bearers of the wisdom of the ancient world and educators to both princes and the poor, could be ruined as the glacier, intolerant to gravity, no longer retreats to the lowlands, trusting the mountain rain will replenish her. Instead, she razes the mountain by the force of her intractability.

I pray I live long enough to feel the Church open her arms to me, to women, to the prudent path of humane sexual expression (not forced sublimation - as a ransome paid by those who are called to Acts of Mercy and holy vocations).

Thank you for your time. I hope my words are helpful and not misconceived confessions.

Marc | 3/30/2009 - 5:07pm
I was just wondering how you got my picture?
Rick Malloy, S.J. | 1/20/2009 - 11:00pm
Mr. Ossa's sense of Diocesan priests' compensation is not like anything about which I have ever heard. His assertion that priests do 8 hours of ministry per week is ludicrous. The regular work week of a parish priest is 6 days with no hourly time limit, and the day "off" disappears if a funeral or emergency calls. Diocesan priests pay for their own seminary training. Catholic priests make less than $20,000 a year. They are responsible for their own retirement expenses and much more. They may live in a suburban neighborhood, or in the inner city, or a sparsely populated rural area. Where they live and, for how long, is at the will of the Bishop. Most parishes, especially those with a school, have very little fat (if any) in the budget, and every Diocesan Bishop is very interested in the financial situation of the parishes for which he has responsibility. Below is a quote from an independent source, collegegrad.com. Their numbers are much more like those I have heard from Diocesan priests. **************************************** From collegegrad.com Earnings Salaries of diocesan priests vary from diocese to diocese. According to a biennial survey of the National Federation of Priests' Council, low-end salaries averaged $15,291 per year in 2002; high-end salaries averaged $18,478 per year. In addition to a salary, diocesan priests receive a package of benefits that may include a car allowance, room and board in the parish rectory, health insurance, and a retirement plan. Diocesan priests who do special work related to the church, such as teaching, usually receive a salary which is less than a lay person in the same position would receive. The difference between the usual salary for these jobs and the salary that the priest receives is called "contributed service." In some situations, housing and related expenses may be provided; in other cases, the priest must make his own arrangements. Some priests doing special work receive the same compensation that a lay person would receive. Religious priests take a vow of poverty and are supported by their religious order. Any personal earnings are given to the order. Their vow of poverty is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service, which exempts them from paying Federal income tax. http://www.google.com/search?q=catholic+priests+salary&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a
Francisco J. Ossa | 1/19/2009 - 9:39am
Think about paying diocesan priests more. Salary in our culture is a measure of a person’s worth. Diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty, so pay them what they are worth. What do you mean with "paying diocesan priests more"? Free room, board and tuition for several years attending College and University... Once ordained, $3.000 per month, room and board, health insurance, car, car insurance, 4-week plus "official" vacation, 8 hour per week ministry, access to a minimum of 500.000 parish income to spend with none or little consultation, invitations, "gifts", etc.
B.P. | 1/9/2009 - 11:28pm
Better pay, etc. is a laughable idea. We're called to follow the crucified Lord, like the crucified St. Peter. Better pay? I don't want anymore priests or religious who are in it for anything other than sanctity and the necessity of their call. In fact, I'd rather have the mass less often; indeed, this would kill two birds with one stone as it would provide less occasions of sin for Catholics who do not bother making themselves worthy for Holy Communion.
Phil Aaron | 1/6/2009 - 7:56pm
In the article by Richard Malloy in a recent edition of America, the author asks “what can we do to foster in the imagination of young adults the possibility that they could be priests or religious”, and suggests six things which have mostly to do with some shortcomings in the pool of candidates. Really what we should reflect on are the shortcomings within religious orders and their inability to adapt to new realities. After living fifty seven years as a vowed religious, I am haunted by the fact that we religious are a dying breed especially in developed countries, unable to recruit new members even to replacement levels let alone able to recruit for growth, and unable to make the radical changes which will attract good candidates. For over forty years we have been in a process of renewal which has been concerned with externals such as dress, daily schedule, living situations and so forth without making a critical analysis of the religious life itself using new theories of human behavior which were unknown to all of us during the hundreds of years of development, growth and living of vowed religious life, personal growth theories which today are accepted as essential to living a fully human life. We have renewed but not revolutionized religious life. What appealed and made sense for good people hundreds of years ago no longer attracts nor makes sense for good people in the postmodern world. Now men and women in the developed world have education and a new sense of themselves and their relationship to the world. Educated people no longer flee from the world nor look for life beyond this world. They rather embrace the world as good and use its good to develop the reign of God in this world. In order to survive, religious communities must address issues related to a need for a new understanding of the notion of the self while being vowed religious in this world. Philip Aaron, S.M.
KC Mulville | 1/6/2009 - 2:14am
I’m an ex-Jesuit, so take my words with a grain of salt. I also happen to know Rick Malloy, SJ, and I’m one of his biggest fans. I can personally testify that Fr. Malloy is a great example and role model. However, I want to add something about promoting vocations that comes from my experience. Jesus’ first words in the Gospel of John were: “What are you looking for?” I’ve always found that question to be a fertile ground of reflection. How we recruit priests should, to some extent, resemble how Jesus’ recruited his apostles. So what kind of answers can we expect if we ask each candidate for the priesthood, “What are you looking for?” First, you might suppose that in order to attract candidates to the priesthood, we should offer them a life of fulfillment. Perhaps we should show them how attractive the priestly life could be. But I think that’s a mistake. Remember how Jesus recruited people. He offered perfection through abandonment. Jesus made the same invitation to Peter and to the rich young man: leave your life behind. Peter was ready to leave his life behind, but the rich man wasn’t (Matthew 19: 16-30). That prompted Jesus to observe how difficult it will be for the rich. Second, let’s face it, look at the numbers. Vocations are always down in rich countries, but thrive in poor countries. The US and Europe get few candidates, but vocations are booming in Africa and India. Why is that? The scary answer, and the answer we’re afraid to admit, is that the priesthood can’t be seen in isolation from how the church functions in the daily lives of the people. If the church is seen as important, relevant, influential, and a powerful force for change in the daily lives of the people (as the church is seen in poor countries), then vocations go up. If the church is seen as an affectation, or a remnant of the immigrant past, or a bunch of funny-dressed people meddling in others’ lives, then the vocations go down. Let’s admit the obvious … in the United States today, the lack of vocations is due to the general belief that the church doesn’t matter anymore in our everyday lives. Note that I didn’t say that the church really is irrelevant, or could be better. But we can’t look the other way anymore. People in this, the richest country in the world, simply don’t see the church as a driving or even consequential force in their daily lives. And we have to face the scary possibility that they may be right. Maybe the church isn’t a relevant force in their daily lives. Vocations to the priesthood will follow the perceived relevance of the church. In poor countries, the people respond when the church is an active defender of the people. The church is a true Paraclete, where the mark of the Spirit is the passionate and unselfish advocacy for the people. Can anyone really call the American church a Paraclete? It used to be, when we were immigrants, and the church’s mission was to mainstream the peasants from Europe. But what is its mission now? Spiritual housekeeping? I’m not sure the bishops themselves know. Aren’t they preparing an episcopal meeting next year to discuss it? Until the American church identifies its mission, and decides how to be relevant in the daily lives of contemporary Americans, the vocations will stay right where they are. I guarantee you, however, if the church acquires and communicates its mission effectively, the vocations will respond.
Katharine Gordon | 1/5/2009 - 10:38pm
Excellent article. Something I thought was telling was how little discussion in the article there was of women considering becoming sisters. From a very practical standpoint, for women of my generation seeking to serve God's people--the poor, the outcast, the sick--we have nearly limitless opportunities to become leaders in every area. We want to become leaders not for the sake of being leaders, but for the sake of making a difference in people's lives. When we have a strong vocation to make an impact in our society, and have found ourselves being leaders in our church and social service groups as teenagers, the best students in our college religion classes, and indispensable volunteers in programs like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, it's hard for us to think about entering, as adults, an institution that will not allow us to become leaders. (It would be useful to have a dialogue about all the ways that women can become leaders--it certainly should not be focused exclusively on the ordination of women.) If we ask the question "how can we be most of service to God's people," a lot of us women come back with the answer that our ministry can be much more effective as social workers, as lawyers, as doctors, as elected officials, as counselors etc...than in official church ministry. For me, the experience of working with torture survivors in my work with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps caused me to confront my personal spirituality and vocation in an extremely intense and surprising way that drew me much closer to thinking about more explicit religious ministry or life. However, I decided to become an attorney instead because I felt that in this role more of my gifts and talents could be used in helping people rather than in expending a lot of energy in figuring out how to work around barriers to leadership.
Enrique I. Alonso | 1/5/2009 - 8:14pm
I'm flabergasted by parts of this essay. It begins for example with the anecdote of a priest approaching a student to possibly recruit him for the priesthood, not even knowing he was an atheist. Had he ever talked to him previously about issues of faith? His criteria for selection apparently was that Kevin was 'a smart philosophy major' and 'good with people', not evidence of faith and charity. It concludes by suggesting that recruiters appeal to a the 'candidate's' base instincts: money. Should one not suppose that if tactics such as the foregoing were (God forbid) succesful, they would 'attract' smart, materialistic men and all that might flow from that? What kind of priests are we going to have in 20 years? Better none than that. If I were considering priesthood and were to read this article, at the very least I would not join the Jesuits, even though I am indebted to them for a substantial part of my education. I suggest to let God do the calling and let the rest of us stick to trying to be the best possible Catholics.
SIMON FALK | 1/5/2009 - 6:56pm
The article by Fr Richard Molloy, SJ was interesting as was the comments that followed. To those who found it lacking I am not surprised, it is afterall, one religious priest offering his experience and expertise. He cannot be expected to please everyone. It may help us to be aware of what we bring when we read these articles as we all have expectations of certain, ideas, doctrines etc that we like to see. I find it a positive and encouraging article. For those who referred to Fr Malloy as "Father Malloy" and not just "Father", thank you. As a priest it can be wearing to be just referred to as an abstract title. I do not know how many of us would, for example, call Mrs Jones just "Mrs" or Mr Williams simply "Mr". Like others, priests also are people with names. Finally, the matter of a young person attending a Jesuit (or any other) college and university and not declaring a belief in God is disappointing. However, after seven years of youth ministry I keep encountering young people who struggle to have an active faith partly because their parents did not bring them to Mass when they were even younger than college age and because their families do not practise their faith now. My own vocation came from a younger age (began at 5) and I was not attracted by priests clothes or titles or powerful preaching of correct doctrine but by their presence - they were a reminder of the presence of God. God who is present in the church, in the family, in the school, in the graveyard, at the shops. Priests, by being present in all of that remind us that God incarnate is present in all that. It seems that those externals are meant to be at the service of God's presence anyway.
patrick hughes | 1/5/2009 - 2:08pm
i found the article very self-serving, and definitely got a sense that the "ordinary" christian was being put down. but i think the article misses the real point. What is the Church doing today that is worth dedicating myself to that cause? if we were to see the Church doing anything significant i doubt there would be any difficulty in getting young people to join the ranks of the priesthood. Prayer seemed to be a big concern in the article. OK, so does the Church pray today? Does it pray as a Church confronting the present crisis? No. individuals look inward, at themselves, at their love for jesus and his love for them, and they pray one on one to god. They are all protestants seeking a "personal" salvation. And if the Church were to cry out to the heavens today, what would it be saying, what prophets would we see rising up in our midst? Certainly not the muttering yokels that are currently heard speaking for the Church today, and even these only mutter, ever so faintly, for they only have a message for individuals. how can this raise up the hearts of the young? Help them see beyond themselves, their opinions and feelings and flattering self images? It is certainly now the dead priesthood of today that can do this. Let the Church look into its own heart and not that of the youth, and there it will find the reason why it can only attract the "charismatic" conservatives promoting homogeneity in a world of pluralities. I grew up in a town of 10,000 people with six churches, each one with its only peculiar form of spirituality, yet all were catholic. It is this breathing room that is missing today, a space where the diversity of the world is reflected in a diversity of spiritualities yet all part of the same universal truth, a truth that is God, one that is far from being comprehended in its totality and hence is open to human discovery rather than dogmatic papal infalability.
Mickey Matesich Edwards | 1/5/2009 - 10:27am
When the January 5 issue of America arrived in yesterday’s mail I could hardly wait to settle down with “The Harvest is Great: Vocations in a Modern Church.” After earning my Master of Divinity degree from the Washington Theological Union, I am in my second year of adult faith formation ministry at a large parish in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. I opened America eager to read about my own vocation: lay ministry in the Church. But there was nothing…. In the category of religious vocations, the call to serve the Church as a lay minister remains invisible. Richard Malloy gives a nod to the “thousands of young men and women preparing for lay ministry,” suggesting that they “may well be the model for future ministry.” I submit it would be difficult to read Co-Workers in the Vineyard and America’s July 21, 2008 issue and not conclude that lay ministry is the model for future ministry. Fr. Malloy asserts that he does not mean “to disparage lay people’s generosity and expertise in the service of the Gospel.” Yet in his discussion of chastity and celibacy, he embraces some of the most offensive and false stereotypes about married life and religious commitment that I have seen in print. First he proposes that a celibate lifestyle “grants one the freedom to be available and to love across a wide spectrum of friends and families that is less possible for those whose lives are lovingly focused on spouse and children.” This stereotype is enshrined in the Rite of Ordination of Deacons where the bishop, in receiving the vow of celibacy of an unmarried candidate, states: “By this consecration, you will adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart; you will be more freely at the service of God and mankind, and you will be more untrammeled in the ministry of Christian conversion and rebirth.” Several years ago I attended an ordination of sixteen men to the permanent diaconate, fourteen of whom were married. When the bishop addressed the above-quoted words to the two men making vows of celibacy, there was an audible gasp from fourteen married couples, all of whom (husbands and wives) knew themselves to be adhering to Christ with undivided hearts. Fr. Malloy’s suggestion that commitment to a spouse or children somehow reduces the love available for others not only disserves married people working in ministry, but it ignores the very real family affection and responsibilities of priests and those in religious life. I have known many priests, and religious sisters and brothers who have devoted substantial time and energy to the care of elderly and ill parents and siblings. These men and women make a convincing case that the demands of familial love actually enhance their ministry and enrich their vocations. The second unfortunate stereotype to which Fr. Malloy succumbs is the notion that only the celibate life affords one sufficient time for prayer. His statement that one “who sleeps alone, whose nights will never be interrupted by a small child’s fear of monsters, has more time to pray every day” is surely laughable for parents and priests! I shudder to think how often my pastor’s sleep is interrupted by calls from hospitals and families in the parish, yet the fidelity and depth of his prayer life is evident in everything he does. As for parents, some of my deepest moments of contemplative prayer have come to me as I was rocking a fretful baby back to sleep at 3 a.m. My alma mater the Washington Theological Union rightly prides itself on forming its students for collaborative ministry. I have been fortunate in finding a job in a parish where such collaboration is cherished and encouraged. We have almost 3,000 families but only one full-time priest – the pastor. There are fourteen laypersons on the parish staff, ten of whom are married. The pastor does the necessary sacramental work, along with hours of pastoral care to our elderly, home-bound, and sick. He shares the rest of the ministerial work with us. He r
Pam Coster | 1/1/2009 - 10:08pm
A wonderful article! As the mother of three young adults, I appreciate the emphasis on the real issues facing young people as they consider religious life. We need more programs such as Catholics on Call, which helps young adults to discern their call in a supportive environment with others who are considering a vocation in the Church. And the article should be required reading for all those who decry the lack of vocations among young people but never reach out. It will take more than $5 in the basket on seminary collection Sunday - it needs a personal commitment on the part of lay people who interact with young adults every day.
Ann Hoenigman | 12/31/2008 - 12:47pm
This article was very good in duscussing head-on some of the more difficult issues of religious life. However,women were not discussed. If a young woman considers religious life she does have to faactor in that she will limit her opportunities to be a leader and power player in the Church because she is a woman; in secular life her chance to reach her highest potential are much greater. This was made clear to me back when Pope Benedict was elected. I remember watching all the men in the college of cardinals and thought, "Where are the womens voices?" With all the great woman doing wonderful works in the church, why are they not part of the leadership?
Jim Higgins | 12/31/2008 - 8:03am
Fr. Malloy is at his best when dealing with young people concerning issues important to them e.g culture,the meaning of life, the spiritual and community. In the past ,I have had Fr. Malloy discuss issues of life and ethics with approx. 150 students in my Sr. Ethics Seminar. His visits and lectures always received the highest ratings. We look forward to more words of wisdom and insights from his treasury of experiences.
Cathy Beckley | 12/31/2008 - 12:19am
Again Fr. Malloy, SJ has offered such cogent examples of encouraging young adults to consider religious life and priesthood. In my work with this Catholic age group, I too find them eager and interested in learning about authentic and life giving vocations. I appreciate articles that encourage a Culture of Vocations.
Michael Arth | 12/31/2008 - 12:10am
As a way to promote vocations, I would recommend a wonderful book called "A Map of Life," by Frank Sheed. Published in 1933, it is actually not about priestly vocations. It doesn't discuss current issues, and it is not a defense of the faith. It is an engaging discription of Catholic belief, that might open a young mind to understand the community that is served by the priesthood. A quick read that is hard to put down, Sheed's clarity and wit unveils the Catholic Faith in a way that draws the reader into a close inspection of the reasons behind our beliefs. This book probably doesn't contain any particular spark that would prompt a sudden desire to seek out a seminary, but it is the type of reading that all Catholics need for a genuine understanding of the faith. I am confident that a large pool of knowledgable Catholics would provide a proportionately large number of sincere young men who are prepared for God's call. Then a subtle nudge from a friend, relative, or priest might provoke the hoped for response.
RONALD MODRAS | 12/29/2008 - 10:06pm
Father Malloy speaks with authority as well as affection about his life as a Jesuit. The diocesan priesthood, however, is another matter. I am disturbed to learn from a variety of sources that there is a virtual schism these days between the senior (Vatican II) diocesan clergy and the more recently-ordained priests, for whom conservative political ideology appears to be mandatory. I am open to correction, but it seems to me that diocesan seminaries these days had might as well put a sign out front, Democrats need not apply.
Mike Evans | 12/29/2008 - 4:07pm
Even in the good old days, we didn't have enough clergy or religious to go around. Our church needs to dialogue with our mainstream Protestant colleagues about the blessings of married clergy and women clergy. Denis above, has it right - mandatory life-long celibacy is the primary issue that keeps our younger people from considering priesthood or religious life. We soon will have over 20,000 deacons in the US, most of whom are married. There is a growing number of both married and single laity taking excellent pastoral and leadership roles in our parishes. Clearly it is time to consider a new model for clergy to do their number one job: serve God's people.
Cindy Prestgard | 12/29/2008 - 3:36pm
Rev Malloy makes some interesting comments. As a mom (who grew up in Phila with the help of diocesan priests and St Joseph nuns) I'm hopeful that my children are called to the priesthood and religious life. I believe that such a life will open so many exciting doors for them. I think most parents have different aspirations for their children though, especially based on the sex abuse scandals in the church. I know though that those who committed abuse are in a very small minority of the priest and religious population. I think there are many obstacles for young people to enter religious life. First, there aren't a lot of role models during their school years--if their parents are faithful, the children will be in the company of a priest only on Sundays and from a distance. A handful of the congregation reaches out to the pastor and the vicars and so priests may only keep company with a select few in the community--having dinner with only a few families or friends. Based on time demands for administration of a parish, its rare or unheard of for priests to go calling on the members of their congregation unless summoned for an emergency. What a great gift though it would be for the priest to stop by and get to know the families of his parish. I also see more female alter servers than male, so boys have less and less opportunity to be part of the creative mystery of the Mass. Parents would do well to encourage their sons to become alter servers--we know girls can be great alter servers and females will instinctively take over roles that are neglected especially ones that involve service. I think the attitude for a boy is, "the church doesn't need me--they've got all these girls to take care of things, so why bother." What a great way for a boy to get close to Jesus in the Eucharist and to have that quiet time to hear a potential call to the priesthood. It is curious that Luke who attended a Jesuit HS and university says he doesn't believe in God. I wonder at what example was set by his teachers and school administration; what exactly was he taught? Were his teachers living a radical life in service of the church or mouth pieces for the new age of relativism? I find that teachers in Catholic schools are mostly if not always lay persons so our young have few "live" religious or priestly role models. Telling them stories of past great experiences with a sister or a priest is good but a live experience would be better. I try to seek out opportunities to have my children meet sisters and priests and talk to them but the reality is that there are few priests and nuns around, and if they are, they aren't identifiable. For most priests and nuns, nothing makes them stand apart from the rest of the crowd. I like that some are comfortable and/or unafraid of wearing their religious habit/garb. I think that fact that many priests and nuns seem like they are just part of crowd is probably the biggest obstacle for attracting young men and women. Young Matt's comment that as a priest he didn't think he could make his mark confirms for me that many young people look at the priesthood and religious life as just "some job." Why bother being a priest or nun if there's nothing truly distinct about it or if it doesn't demand a radical response to the issues of our age? I'm not sure what father means in being "creative" in applying the church's teachings--such talk makes me a little wary. Priests and nuns primarily are the ones who need to show the distinctiveness of their vocations--by their radical response and their radical lives in living out the truths of the church--not in their creatively conforming to societal views of homosexuality, birth control, abortion and female priests. I, like so many of our young people, want priests and nuns who stand for the truth and who live out what our magesterium teaches--trusting in God's word that He'll never let the church err in the teachings of faith and morals. Whi
Denis Quinlan | 12/29/2008 - 2:04pm
Dear Sirs: Don't get me wrong - the tenor and tone of Fr. Malloy's article is obviously sincere and well thought out and I give him credit for that. But his comments about celibacy are just one more exercise in denial. Celibacy is the issue
Rosanne Belpedio | 12/29/2008 - 12:36pm
Thank you for such a thoughtful and honest article about a topic that we to often ignore these days. In these closing days of 2008 it gives me pause to recall the many graces of my own religious life and challenges me to greater openness in sharing that "good news'with others.
Timothy E Tilghman | 12/29/2008 - 11:36am
i like the article, especially the part re - talking about the tough issues. i personally get worked up on occasion because it appears that one who asks questions about the church's teaching and how to apply them may be treated as one who is lacking in faith instead of one who is seeking the truth in order to act in a focused way on the faith. Giving honest answers is good. Sometimes the answer is "I have to reflect more on the question," which is not a bad answer. The US bishop's note on Faithful Citizenship calls us to reflect thru the prism of our faith then act, which is a good thing. the good thing was captured in the article. Peace,