by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Young people have been there, done that and even bought the T-shirt when it comes to the secular world’s version of happiness and success.
And it has left them unfulfilled and unhappy.
This trend of dissatisfaction among the young means they’re open to a new message.
“There is a real hunger and thirst . . . especially among young people, to discover their real purpose in life,” said Father Dan Morris, archdiocesan vocations director.
“They’re increasingly recognizing that they were made for more, and that is something only Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church can offer,” he added. “The hunger is there, and we need to speak into that hunger from the church’s perspective.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has designated Nov. 7-13 National Vocation Awareness Week, and this is a good time for all Catholics to consider the importance of cultivating vocations to the priesthood and religious life and what role they can play.
First, Catholics should know that all of us have the responsibility to cultivate vocations, and that includes empowering others to be one of those voices calling young people to more, Father Morris said. Second, we must recognize that vocations to the priesthood and religious life are “sacred ground,” but not “secret ground.”
“Sometimes, we can hold those two vocations up to such an extent that we don’t make public the fact that people are actually feeling called and are discerning those vocations,” said Father Morris, “such that when a young person may feel an attraction or a call to either of those, they don’t yet feel they have permission to make it known, so it stays within themselves, and they never respond.”
Young people need to know it’s OK to discern a vocation. In other words, we need to normalize the pursuit of these callings. Since becoming vocations director, Father Morris has encouraged pastors and chaplains to be a voice of support for those who are discerning or have made an application.
“They are an extension of the vocations office as the pastor of someone who has reached out to us,” said Father Morris.
And here’s another principle: Holiness attracts holiness.
Young people need to meet other young people who have answered that call to explore vocations to the priesthood and religious life, he said. By normalizing relationships with seminarians at places like Camp Tekakwitha in Williamsburg, Prayer and Action and youth events, young people can discover what makes following a vocation so attractive.
Father Morris has learned a couple of important things since he became archdiocesan vocations director in 2018.
First, he has learned that sustained accompaniment and authentic friendship is most fruitful — and this includes listening, teaching, mentoring, encouraging, inviting and sometimes even challenging.
Second, he’s learned having vocations events appropriate to different age levels works best.
For example, a good entry-level event is the “Master’s Cup” golf tournament. Another is Project Andrew, a “come-and-see” program in a single afternoon that presents basic information without a commitment.
“Quo Vadis,” a two-day program for young men who are at least high school juniors, is a more intense discernment event. Finally, for those who have made an application, there is a formative and evaluative program called High Calling offered through the Avila Institute. It’s a yearlong program that prepares young men to enter the seminary.
But before discovery sprouts, the seed of faith must be planted.
It all starts with Catholic families living the faith in the home of their own heart and life, said Father Morris. And they must encourage others — their children, their friends — to take following Jesus seriously and trusting that he has answers to their questions. Catholics must live a sacramental life and be open to what God is asking of them or calling their son or daughter to.
“We don’t have a crisis in vocations right now, we have a crisis in faith,” said Father Morris. “And that’s making a crisis in marriage and families and priestly vocations.”
“It’s not that something’s wrong with the priesthood per se,” he continued. “It’s that something’s wrong with our culture that says, ‘We don’t need God.’ And when you take God out as the start-point, then of course there’s a crisis in priestly vocations and a breakdown in marriage and the family.”
Although many dioceses in the United States and around the world are experiencing a dearth of vocations, the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas is doing relatively well. Father Morris attributes this to the Holy Spirit at work, the faithfulness of the Catholics of the archdiocese and good leadership.
“We’re blessed to have Archbishop Naumann as our shepherd and have had him for 17 years,” he said. “We’re blessed his predecessor, Archbishop Keleher, put some key initiatives into our archdiocese that are bearing fruit — Camp Tekakwitha, St. James Academy. All of those were [established] 17 to 25 years ago, but that’s where our vocations are coming out of now, and certain parishes play into that, too. Those things are coming into fruition as long as we keep watering them.”
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