Pray with the Pope: April 2017 – Call to Priesthood
Prayer Intention: That young people may respond generously to their vocations and seriously consider offering themselves to God in the priesthood or consecrated life.
Why is it that the winners of beauty contests are always going to save the world? They routinely say that they intend to dedicate their lives to underprivileged children or battered women or some ambitious development project which aims to eliminate a serious disease.
Rarely do we hear of them again and yet the media continue to publish similar stories and we continue to read them avidly.
I don’t think that these young women really do hope to make a difference using their new-found fame. And we want to believe them, I suggest, because we are inspired by the generous desires of young and talented people to give of themselves to a worthy cause.
I suspect that the trouble with these wonderful but rather nebulous ideals is that there is very little to found and sustain them either on the level of practical organisation or personal spirituality.
Who or what will help a generous soul focus these generous desires, sustain them in the long term and provide the individuals with the spiritual resources to commit for the long haul when the media have long forgotten them?
NGOs can sometimes provide something in this line of support — but, generally speaking, NGOs are notoriously unstable organisations, and those working for them are frequently very transient.
Many years ago I worked in an NGO which sheltered homeless people on the streets of Dublin. Most of the workers were young, talented, generous and unchurched. They did great work, giving up a few years of their young lives in the service of the poorest members of their society.
Eventually most would move on to a professional career, marry and live good middle class lives, though at least one that I have kept contact with has worked for an international Catholic aid agency ever since and combined this with a happy marriage.
Every Fibre of Their Being
My point is that generous ideals require communities of commitment in which they can be realised. In a way NGOs have attempted to fill the vacuum left by the decline of religious life in the West, but they are not the same animal.
There is no substitute for the consecrated life and/or the priesthood if a person wishes to dedicate their entire life with every fibre of their being to God and to God’s people.
As Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ once said: “Everything for the greater glory of God; more is not possible.”
And apart from the goal of God and God’s will, religious life and the priesthood have centuries of experience behind them in how to form people in such a commitment and in the structures and spiritualities that will sustain it.
Certainly, new forms of religious life and new ways of living out the priesthood will spring up under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but all of these continue to draw from the tradition and build on the foundations of those who went before.
Take Benedictine monasticism, for example. For a millennium and a half people have been giving themselves to God in this remarkably resilient but flexible charism which enables ordinary men and women to transcend their human limitations and to live lives of extraordinary holiness.
There is no great secret about this. The monastic structure supports the monk or nun and keeps them going in the inevitable times of frailty.
The rhythm of prayer,the work and the community life slowly form a person into what he or she aspires to become. The inspiration of the founder and the founder’s followers draws the person on and feeds the ideal.
The same is true of how a man grows in the community of the diocese as a diocesan priest.
It seems that in some places in the world these communities of commitment are declining. In others they are expanding. The demise of religious life and the priesthood have been predicted frequently, but always prematurely. As long as there are generous young people who feel attracted to follow Jesus Christ in an immediate and radical way and to make a difference in the Church and the world, these ways of life will survive and thrive.
We pray for such young people, especially that their fundamental motivations should be good, noble and pure.