Summary of today’s show: Scot Landry and Fr. Dan Hennessey consider the new pastoral guidelines for fostering priestly vocations from the Vatican that show that family, Catholic schools, the witness of joyful priests, and serving others in charity are they keys to more priests in our parishes, while families that discourage, priests who are marginalized or take the shine off the priests’ life, and a growing secularism in society work to deter men from considering this vital vocation.
Listen to the show:
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry
Today’s guest(s): Fr. Dan Hennessey
Links from today’s show:
- “Pastoral Guidelines for Fostering Vocations to Priestly Ministry”, Congregation for Catholic Education (PDF)
- Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati “To the Heights” Hike Part II: Tackling Monadnock
- Office for Vocations
Today’s topics: The four keys to more priestly vocations and the four factors that work against
1st segment: Scot Landry welcomed back Fr. Dan Hennessey, vocation director of the archdiocese of Boston. Scot said summer is busy for him, beginning with helping the newly ordained men who are now priests and continuing with helping men discerning their entrance to the seminary. Fr. Dan encouraged men who are finishing up their applications and applying to the seminaries. Scot noted that the men are from all different backgrounds, finishing college, starting college, or coming from a working background. Fr. Dan said a majority of men have just finished college or within the past couple of years.
Scot asked what the rules and requirements are for seminary. Fr. Dan said men have to have graduated high school. If they don’t have a college degree, they go to a college seminary at Providence College. At the other end of the age range, they don’t have a hard and fast rule, but anything over 45 or 50 years old, it becomes less common. He said there are men in the 50s and 60s studying for the priesthood. Scot noted that it’s a mutual discernment between the man and the Church. Fr. Dan noted that you can’t really discern in a vacuum. He encouraged any interested man to start a conversation that has no obligation in it.
Scot said he spent two years in the seminary and is grateful for that opportunity of discernment. Fr. Dan said the end result isn’t simply that we get more priests, but that each man can know and do God’s will in their life. His job is to challenge men to ask the questions well.
Today’s topic is a new document from the Congregation for Catholic Education on guidelines for fostering priestly vocations. Scot said he notes that Fr. Dan has
Fr. Dan said they have an even in early August called the Blessed Pier Giorgio Hike. Fr. Dan said there’s a story of Frassati climbing up this mountain with his friends and wrote on the bottom of the picture his friend took “To the Heights”. So the vocations office is gathering young men to have an outdoors event. Previously, they’d had a hike in June on Mt. Watatic, starting at St. John’s in Townsend with breakfast by the Knights of Columbus. They drove to the mountain and hiked to the top where they had Mass. One of the knights literally built an altar that they carried to the top of the mountain. It was just ann event for seminarians and priests and young men to get together.
In August, they’re going to do it again by hiking Mount Monadnock on Saturday, August 11 at 8:30am. They won’t be able to have a Mass at the summit, but they will have it at St. John’s parish and breakfast again as before. Fr. Dan said a lot of the men who came in June were invited by the seminarians and other priests. Interested folks can call or email to register. Find the information at the website.
2nd segment: Scot said 20 years ago Pope John Paul published a letter on the formation of priest called Pastore Dabo Vobis, which guides all the ways that seminaries form men for the priesthood. The Vatican wanted to mark that anniversary.
Fr. Dan said it’s actually his longest papal writing and it goes through all the different aspects of formation in a seminary for a man to become a priest. There are four pillars of seminary formation: pastoral, spiritual, intellectual, and human. These four pillars together form a whole man. The seminary revolves around that. It’s not just academics, but a formation of the whole person. He said we should believe that any man’s time in the seminary is more than just an intellectual engagement. The Latin name means “I will give you shepherds.” It’s become the Magna Carta for forming seminarians.
Scot said as a father raising three kids to be good and responsible adults who know God and are good citizens, those four pillars apply to the formation of his kids as well. They should have good human qualities, strong spiritual qualities, intellectual formation, and pastoral formation to put others first through service and giving of self. Scot said it’s good to read for anyone in any state in life.
Fr. Dan talked about the identity of the priest and what the ministerial priesthood is for the Church and the world according to John Paul II. He said the priest stands there as an icon of Christ. That extends even to the human dimension, so that the man must become more and more a bridge to bring others to Christ.
Now this new pastoral guidelines document was compiled by the Congregation for Catholic Education in the Vatican which sent out a survey to the bishops’ conferences around the world. They asked them to complete a situational report on what’s working and not in each culture. What they found was that the situation of priestly vocations the star is very varied in the world:
The situation of priestly vocations is very varied in the world today. It seems to be characterized by both good and bad. While in the West there is the problem of a decline in vocations, in other continents, despite their lack of resources, there is a promising increase in priestly vocations.
In traditionally Christian countries, the worrying fall in the number of priests, the rising of their average age and the requirements of the new evangelization are shaping a new situation for the Church.
The reduced birthrate also contributes to the diminishing of vocations to a special consecration. The life of the Catholic faithful is suffering the effects of the unbridled quest for material goods and the fall in religious practice, which discourage making courageous and demanding Gospel choices.
Scot asked Fr. Dan if he sees less support from family for men considering the priesthood. Fr. Dan said the document points out many times the importance of the family for passing on the faith and encouraging and nurturing the seed of the vocation. Unfortunately, in some families they don’t see the value in their son considering whether God might calling them to the priesthood.
Scot said the document also says there’s a vocations boom in some places, especially African and Asia. Scot said wherever vocations are promoted and prayed for, men do respond to the call to the priesthood. If we want more priests, religious, and good marriages, we need to pray for them.
Fr. Dan wanted to be sure to quote: “The key things to foster priestly vocations are those proposed by formation for Christian life: listening to the Word of God, participation in the Eucharist and exercising charity.” He often responds to parents who ask him how to encourage vocations in their kids by telling them that vocations grow from a strong Catholic environment.
Scot said the family is very important:
The family remains the primary community for the transmission of the Christian faith. It can be seen everywhere that many priestly vocations are born in families where the example of a Christian life in keeping with its calling and the practice of the evangelical virtues give rise to the desire for complete self-giving. Care for vocations presupposes, in reality, a strong family pastoral ministry.
Also they note the joyful witness of priests:
The witness of priests united to Christ, happy in their ministry and united in brotherhood among themselves, has a strong vocational appeal for young men. Bishops and priests offer to young men a high and attractive image of ordained priesthood. ‘The very life of priests, their unconditional dedication to God’s flock, their witness of loving service to the Lord and to his Church – a witness marked by free acceptance of the cross in the spirit of hope and Easter joy – their fraternal unity and zeal for the evangelization of the world are the first and most convincing factor in the growth of vocations.’
Fr. Dan said it’s amazing how much of an influence joyful priests have on young people. Very often he hears from men considering the priesthood is because they have a friendship with or are parishioners of a priest who loves being a priest. He often thinks that if more priests were proactive at inviting men to consider the priesthood, they might be surprised at the positive response they receive.
Scot said someone who gives everything that they have and live their life with joy, it inspires other people to want to do that. A mom who is full of joy in her life inspires her daughters and other women to want to emulate her. Same with plumbers and electricians. Scot recalled Cardinal Seán’s story of his vocation, how as an eight-year-old boy he met a Franciscan gardener at a retreat center who was the most joyful person he’d ever met.
Fr. Dan said another group of influential people is the seminarians themselves, showing the joy in their seminary life. He said there’s something about knowing you’re not alone in the struggle. When young men realize there are other young men like them considering the same thing gives them courage. That’s why the hike and events like it are so important.
Scot said two other important contexts are service work and schools:
It can also be seen that many young people discover the call to priesthood and to consecrated life after they have had an experience of doing voluntary work, in charitable service towards those who suffer, the needy and the poor, or after they have taken part for some time in Catholic missions.
Fr. Dan said very often a year of service after college can be a life changing experience. The men come out of their comfort zones and encounter Christ in the poor, allowing them to consider what’s most important. Discernment is when a young man or woman asks what really is most important in life? How can I live a serious life instead of just floating along? When a Catholic man comes to see that the priesthood is integral to the most important things in life, then he can ask whether this is for him. Scot said when we see heaven as the most important thing in life, that’s when we can see rightly.
Fr. Dan told the story of the Cure of Ars, when he arrives at his new pastorate for the first time. On the road he encounters a young boy and tells him, you show me the way to Ars and I’ll show you the way to heaven.“ Priests are human beings who are fallible and weak, but who has been changed by God to be somebody who can stand in the midst of the community and say, ” I want to help lead you to heaven."
Scot said when you spend life in Christian service you care for their material needs because you see them as God’s children and you begin to ask who’s caring for their spiritual needs.
The other context is schools. In interviewing more than 100 priests and asking them where they first considered a vocation ,he said many point to Catholic schools as a place where they first thought of it. Fr. Dan said about 10 to 20% of Catholics attend a Catholic school, but over 50% of seminarians priests have gone to Catholic school. There is nothing more powerful than witness and the witness of religious brothers and sisters and priests in those schools has been key.
Scot argues that the biggest context is experience of a big Catholic event like World Youth Day or the March for Life. He said many men talk about their experience at those events triggering the thought of God calling them. They see thousands or millions of people and wonder if God is calling them to serve the vast crowds.
Fr. Dan said the next part of the document talks about the identity of the priest. “Before calling his disciples to a particular task, Jesus invites them to put everything to one side, to live in profound communion with him, indeed to ‘be’ with him (Mk 3:14).” The first thing Christ did with his disciples was to “be” with him before sending them out. So all these contexts of family and schools and the like first start with prayer. When we know Christ, it isn’t so scary to say that he might be calling us to a life because we know he will always be with us.
3rd segment: Scot said the document also talks about factors that depress Catholic vocations. The first is the sense that we are living in a growing secularized society: “The spreading of a secularized mentality discourages the response of young
people to follow the Lord Jesus more radically and more generously.” Scot said Pope Benedict often talks about how don’t act like a Christian in public; we are practical atheists who hide our faith in a box. We’re told religion isn’t something we share in public.
Fr. Dan said priests are aware that secular environment more and more. He said when people recognize he’s a priest wearing a collar, he finds that people are welcoming to him. Scot said in young people there’s not the conversation or narrative that there used to be even in public schools: What do you think God has in store for you? People don’t feel comfortable talking that way now. Children in Catholics schools today talk about how they are happy to be able to use the name of Jesus in school today.
Another chilling factor: “Parents, furthermore, with their hopes for their children’s future, reserve little space to the possibility of a call to a special vocation.” Fr. Dan said the further we get away from understanding the priesthood as a beautiful and important vocation in the world, the more the priest comes to be seen as a functionary. We need to understand the priesthood is not just a functionary activity. He thinks this is why Pope Benedict had a Year for Priests a few years ago. The priesthood doesn’t boil down to what one does, but it’s who he is. That’s important for vocational discernment and it’s unfortunate we don’t recognize this. Fr. Dan is not a service provider.
Scot said the response to secularism is the Year of Faith. The response to discouraging parents is to be the one who tells kids you know to consider their vocation.
Scot said another factor is the lack of chastity in society today. The hook-up culture is normalized and the person trying to be faithful to chastity is seen as strange.
Fr. Dan said it’s important to recognize that when a parent is discouraging, they are motivated by great love even if they are not exercising it in the best way. They think their son going to the seminary is wasting his life. They don’t think their son will be happy. We need to educate parents and help them to see that the vocation to the priesthood is a life-giving vocation.
The fourth main concern is that some parents scandalized by priests not faithful to the priesthood are concerned about their sons becoming like that man, even those are just not joyful. In any vocation there are going to be people who live it well, who are mediocre, and those who are embarrassment to that vocation. Look for the holy and happy priests as the model.
Fr. Dan invited everyone to pray for vocations to the priesthood and to form an invisible monastery of prayer for priests for the Archdiocese of Boston.