Whenever I hear about the vocations crisis, the first thing that always jumps to mind is Archbishop Charles Chaput’s foreword in Christopher West’s The Good News About Sex and Marriage. Using barely more than one page, he makes a compelling case that the real vocations crisis is that of marriage and family life. He writes:
Very few [discussions about the vocations crisis] deal with the most fundamental vocations crisis of all: marriage and family life.
It’s no accident that priests and religious emerge from believing, practicing, loving Catholic families…The love between a husband and wife is the foundation stone upon which every other Christian vocation is built.
If you want to do something about the “vocations crisis”…you can begin right here [referring to West’s book].
This really resonates with me. In particular, in my (admittedly limited) observations of Catholic culture, I’ve noticed a very strong connection between openness to life on the part of the parents and openness to a call to religious life on the part of the children. It makes sense that the two would go hand in hand: if a couple is open to God’s will in terms of weighty issues like family size, they would probably be open to God’s will in terms of their children’s vocations. If, however, a couple carefully plans precisely how many children they will have and when, and closes off the possibility of anything unexpected, they would probably raise their children with a similarly controlling mentality, that they (not God) will decide how their lives will play out.
As an eloquent fellow blogger recently said to me in an email, “If we don’t trust the Lord’s timing with our wombs, when do we trust it?” It seems to me that it’s an uphill battle to try to get lots more priests and religious out of the ranks of the current culture that (even in many Catholic circles) takes it for granted that each person should control the events of their lives with an iron fist, relying very little on Providence.
I think that Archbishop Chaput really hit the nail on the head when he said that the lack of true Catholic marriages is the real vocations crisis, and that we must start there if we hope to increase the ranks of priests and religious.
This opinion, however, is coming from someone very new to Catholic culture. What do you (my Catholic readers in particular) think?
A NOTE ON COMMENTS: In re-reading this post I see that it has high potential for tangents, as anything relating to the priesthood or Catholic teaching on marriage always does. I’m really interesting in the issue of the vocations crisis, so let’s try to stick to that. For those who wonder about the Church’s teaching on contraception, Christopher West’s article here is a pretty good summary, and we had some debates about it back in May here and here.
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