On Sunday we celebrated in the Church the day of consecrated life. We face a crisis of vocations at all levels to be honest, but there is real need even more so of the radical witness of consecrated men and women. In the document titled "The Service and Authority of Obedience" the prefect of the Congregation of Institutes of Consecrated life, mentions the challenge that consecrated people face when it seems that consecrated life is weakening and disspearing. In that same document the prefect mentions how the superiors of communities must remind their members of "the perennial values of this kind of life, because today, as yesterday, and as always NOTHING is MORE IMPORTANT, BEAUTIFUL AND TRUE than spending one's life in the service of the Lord and for the littlest of his children." So why the crisis? When Benedict XVI came to New York last year, he spoke to the Bishops and mentioned that the flourishing of vocations or their lack of are indicators of the vitality of the local Churches. Wow, what a statement, perhaps the lack of vocations in the US is related to our lack of vitality as a Church, something that nobody has ever been able to acknowledge. But why is our Church lacking this vitality necessary to promote vocations? Well I have several ideas:
1. Lack of faith, which is manifested in lack of prayer for vocations. I am surprised to find how few people pray anymore for an increase of vocations to the consecrated life, even consecrated people seem to have given up, and prayer for vocations is either non-existent or at the very least not one of their priorities. NO PRAYER ---> NO VOCATIONS.
2. Lack of appreciation for the value of religious life. Many people are either ignorant about consecrated life and many others simply have a distorted image about consecrated life. The images that the media portrays about consecrated life are repulsive, uninviting, unattractive. Consecrated people and priests are depicted many times as being out of touch with life, living within a medieval frame of mind, closed off, out of date, repressed, mean, etc. Just the opposite of what consecrated life is in reality, although there are perhaps a small minority of individuals that could come close to fit the typical representations of the media. :-)
3. The emphasis on a distorted notion of freedom and the narcissistic trends of our culture, make difficult for young people to think beyond themselves and to make commitments. And this is the case for consecrated life, the priesthood, or marriage. People are simply afraid of making commitments, in fact, they are so concerned with themselves, that the notion of living for someone else seems foreign to many of them. To think of a life time commitment seems an unattainable goal. This emphasis on self and personal autonomy makes also very difficult for a young person to think that freedom can indeed be perfected through obedience after the example of Christ. The obsession with an undifferentiated personal freedom at any cost does not leave space for the understanding of a proper notion of freedom in so far as this one is and should always be ordered towards love.
4. The havoc that pornography has created in our youth, has destroyed many souls in the process and many possible vocations. Young people do not think is possible to live a vow of chastity. Chastity is certainly a medieval concept for many of them, archaic at the very least, out of touch with reality, simply impossible to live. The youth have been taught that they cannot discipline their desires, all they can do is to avoid the nasty consequences, and this mentality has perverted the sacred notion of sexuality and sex. So not only vocations to the consecrated life suffer but also the vocations to marriage. Due to lack of purity marriages also fail at greater rates every day.
5. The materialistic mentality of our society and the worship of technology, and the comforts of our society leave very little room for the appreciation of a life of poverty. Why rock the boat so to speak when you are so comfortable. Perhaps with the economic crisis that we are facing now some people may come to their senses and realize that material possessions are also elusive and therefore they cannot be ultimately the source of our confidence and happiness.
6. Lack of a true witness of consecrated people. Communities of consecrated life have adapted too well to their surrounding culture and the comforts and the commodities that this world offers, and do not present a radical witness or a real challenge to those young people that are seeking to give up their life for something worthwhile. So we as consecrated people have failed our youth, and I think it is important that we assess our lifestyle and do not conform to the standards of our society, but that we truly live our vows in a radical way, in a way that people can truly see in us Christ obedient, Christ poor and Christ chaste. The challenge is on us, those who have already committed ourselves to live this life.
7. Lack of prayer and silence on the part of the young people. In a world saturated with noise and information, young people are never silent, they always have their ipods, their iphones, their sound systems, their TVs, computers, bombarding them with all kinds of information and noise. How are they going to be able to listen to the voice of God? It certainly will be more difficult. Young people need to be challenged to reflect, to think, to pray, and to be able to do this they need silence, this is how the heart and the spirit really grow.
8. There are many other reasons, but the last one I will mention here is that young people are rarely invited to consider a vocation to the consecrated life or the priesthood, as a healthy, and possible way of life for them. Few of us priests preach about the beauty of consecrated life, if the reader happens to be a priest I would challenge you to consider honestly how often you preach and challenge young people to prayerfully consider the possibility of being called to live a consecrated life. How will they come unless they are also invited? So we have to have the courage to invite others and like the words of the Gospel often say, young people, DO NOT BE AFRAID, the Master is waiting for you :-)