Praying for vocations is an important task we are given as members of the Church, one that is often overlooked or only half-heartedly remembered during National Vocation Awareness Week in November. Yet, our collective failure to significantly pray for and encourage the thoughtful discernment of vocations is one of the bigger problems we face as a Church. It directly affects our ability to carry on the faith to future generations. On top of that, there’s another vocations problem that we face; in fact, there are four of them. We are called to pray not only for priestly vocations, but also those to marriage, consecrated religious life, and the single life.
This is something we often forget: there are multiple vocations. When we pray for vocations, are we truly open to whatever God is calling us to do? Are we willing to consider and discern what cross he is asking us to take up, what sacrifices he’s asking us to make as either a priest, religious, spouse, or single person?
To be clear, we do have a serious priest shortage on our hands. We should pray for vocations to the priesthood in a particular way. We have far too few men entering our seminaries to sustainably manage the Church we’ve grown. Too few have taken up the mantle as more and more priests are hitting the ever-increasing age of retirement. Too many parishes have been consolidated due to the lack of priests. It is "truly right and just" that we pray for more vocations to the priesthood!
On the other hand, if we are going to pray for vocations, we should also pray for a proper understanding of all four. I often hear of my peers being asked when they’re going to "settle down and have some kids." If each of us has his or her own particular calling, shouldn’t we encourage one another to earnestly discern our respective vocations? Shouldn’t parents encourage their sons and daughters to look at the possibility of marriage, priesthood, religious life, and single life as equally viable answers to God's call? Or is the expectation that they get married and give their parents grandchildren? “God, please inspire more young men to answer the call … but, please, not MY son!”
This doesn't discount the great need to shift our view on the vocational nature of marriage. If we don’t, we risk: a) overly romanticizing marriage and b) placing the priesthood and religious life in an ivory tower, reserved only for the most noble and selfless among us. And of course, most people are ultimately called to marriage; it's necessary in order to keep humanity—and the Church—alive through the ages. But we desperately need more holy marriages, more vocational marriages. Not only do they contribute to the work of sanctifying the secular world, but they are also directly responsible for creating the next generations of priests and religious. Without an increase in vocations to marriage, our shortage of religious vocations will continue as well.
And let’s not forget about the single life. Some people do, in fact, have a calling to serve the Church and sanctify the world through a life of lay celibacy. That calling is of equal importance to the other three; such individuals have a unique capacity for service that the other three vocations just don’t allow. The celibate single life, when discerned well, is an incredibly life-giving vocation.
We need more vocations, period. So when we pray “for an increase in vocations,” let’s pray for an increase in all of them: vocations to the priesthood, religious life, single life, and marriage. The truth is that all four types of vocation have distinct strengths that contribute to the Church's mission of sanctifying the world.
Most importantly, when we pray for vocations, do we acknowledge that we ourselves are the answer to those prayers? Like it or not, we are. We pray to God to end hunger, but we are the ones he's sent to end that hunger. We pray to God for world peace, but we are the ones he's sent to bring about that
peace. We pray to God for more vocations to the priesthood, but we are the ones he's sent to encourage (and answer) them. When we pray for vocations let us also pray that we come to know our own and can fulfil it with a joyful heart.
May our Blessed Mother encourage us to faithfully discern how her Son calls us to serve each and every day. Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!