I mentioned yesterday that this was Vocations Awareness Week.
The hierarchy of states of life
It is an important issue since I suspect that, as in my generation, most catholics don't actually properly discern their vocation.
For that would mean taking seriously the virtually banished (despite having been formally defined) teaching that the choice of celibacy and/or virginity for the sake of the kingdom is objectively a higher state of life.
And this in turn would imply testing out one's vocation for religious life or the priesthood (or other ways of pursuing this vocation, such as becoming a hermit, third order member, taking private vows, etc) before considering marriage.
We have a desperate shortage of priests in Australia, and an ever declining number of religious.
But the reality is that the situation will not change unless the attitudes of those in positions of authority in the Australian Church come into line with the Church's traditional teaching on this subject.
In the very same edition of my local diocesan newspaper, The Voice, which advertises vocations awareness week, there are two items which directly subvert this teaching.
One is a book review of radical US nun Sr Sandra Schneiders' book 'Prophets In their own Country: Women Religious Bearing Witness to the Gospel in a Troubled Church' attacking the Vatican visitation of US women religious. The title of the book says it all: the destructive practices and heretical views that have led to the collapse of religious life in the West, instead of being condemned, are instead as justified as 'prophetic ministry'.
The other is even more disturbing. In a Year of Grace column, the 'archdiocesan faith formation and spirituality co-ordinator' Shane Dwyer portrays the collapse in vocations as having a silver lining in that "the laity are being reminded of their baptismal call to live their vocation as 'priests, prophets and kings'." Oh really?
In fact the absence of priests and religious surely means that the laity are being diverted from their proper vocation in the world, and having to fill in, as best they can where they can in areas that are not in fact their proper vocation. In fact the absence of priests and religious means that the laity are being deprived of the very supports they need to live out their vocation to the full.
There is no 'silver lining' at work here.
And I can't help but think that it is subversion of a more subtle kind that the pictures in the vocations feature (save for an ad for a particular congregation) are all of rather aged religious: there is a story (and picture) on the Marists that is all about a number of jubilarians; together with a story on the 450th anniversary of St Teresa's reform of Carmel, accompanied by a picture of Canberra's very small and ageing Carmelite community that evidently hasn't attracted any vocations for some time.
Now of course we should applaud these religious who have been faithful to their vocation.
But in the context of trying to encourage young people to test their vocations, wouldn't it have been better to feature Canberra's own rapidly growing Missionaries of God's Love? Or one of the other more youthful and expanding congregations such as the Benedictine Tyburn Sisters or the Missionaries of Charity?
Recovering the true nature of the priesthood and religious life
If we truly want a healthy Church in Australia in the future, if we truly wnat to be able to re-evangelize our country, we need first, in my view, to recover our understanding of the true nature of the ministerial priesthood and religious lives respectively, and to understand how both differ fundamentally from the lay life. We need to understand how both complement rather than supplant the role of laypeople in the Church.
Of course, that is pretty difficult to do when so many priests and religious do their best to look and live as much like lay people as possible, and where those in authority see the dearth of vocations as an 'opportunity' for the laity rather than a failure.