Column: How the economy affects vocations

by Father Mitchel Zimmerman

I’ve gotten quite a few questions, including one on a flight to Milwaukee this week, regarding how the economy is affecting vocations.

Usually, the implied question is that since we are experiencing so much unemployment right now, are guys turning more toward the priesthood as a career option?

The short answer is no. A downturn in the economy does not lead to more vocations, at least not in our modern society. There was a time, of course, when being a priest or religious represented an opportunity to receive the best education and to escape poverty, but that time has long since passed. With the endless educational opportunities available to bright young people today, they are not turning toward religious vocations in order to get an education.

Although the education available through our seminaries, for example, is unique and in many ways the most comprehensive education a young man can receive, this is not the common perception. What is more, most young people see the priesthood and religious life not for the job security it might present, but as a means of forsaking security and independence and choosing to be poor in imitation of Christ.

So no, on the surface, a downturn in the economy does not lead to more vocations. In our modern society, young people do not consider the priesthood or religious life in order to be well-educated and to be successful. They have many other options for that.

Even though we do need priests and religious badly, this is probably a good thing, since the priesthood and religious life should not be somewhere toward the bottom of a list of career options, to be turned to in case other things don’t work out. Those prospective seminarians who have trouble being successful in our difficult economy may experience the same failure in their struggle to be a good priest.

It is more common for me to deal with young men who are thinking about leaving successful careers than those who are having difficulty finding a viable career.

Yet, there is something about a tough economy that turns the hearts and minds of people more deeply toward God, who alone is our lasting source of security. Although in the short term, a down economy does little to increase religious vocations, we can continue to pray that a culture may eventually be built where it is easier for our young people to trust not in the success this world offers, but in God, who knows our young people and is calling them to heroic lives of virtue and sacrifice so that his love may be made more present and real in our world.

Let us pray often and together for all our young people in the archdiocese considering a religious vocation.

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