by Father Mitchel Zimmerman
Anybody offering good jobs today is inundated with phone calls and resumes. The exception is the vocation office.
Of course, we’re busy, but we say in the vocation office that only one out of every 1,000 phone calls or e-mails is from a young man who wants to go into the seminary. The rest are about something else.
We are busy, trying to broadcast as loudly and deeply as possible the need for discernment of the priesthood, but progress is slow. Last year we gave out 14 applications and accepted six new seminarians from those who made it through the process. This is a pretty low number, given the pool of potential applicants, and the scholarship packages and incomparable job security we offer.
We not only have jobs, we have the best jobs. Priesthood continues to rank highest among all professions in job satisfaction, with over 90 percent of priests happy with what they do. Even though our priests are overwhelmed, they are not burned out, and we experience less than three percent attrition per year in the priesthood. Neither marriage nor any other job can come close to this.
With so many people needing jobs, why do we not have more applicants? I think you know the answer: People misunderstand celibacy. Guys are scared to death of celibacy. It takes an extraordinarily strong relationship with Jesus to hear the Lord say, “Do not be afraid” to stand in relationship with the world exactly as he did, without wife or children. Jesus wants to give this spiritual gift to many men, but it is a hard gift to receive and to unwrap. We are afraid of sacrifice and loneliness. Yet we have to trust that the Lord will not abandon any man who makes this sacrifice out of love for him and the church.
Our church wisely asks its young men to consider closely the chaste and sacrificial love that Christ himself has for humanity, and to ask him personally for the gift of celibacy, before they are ordained as priests to act and speak in his person. Despite prejudices and misunderstandings regarding celibacy, we are not going to eliminate this valuable discernment just to make the phones ring.
Instead of requiring less, let us encourage our young men more, and pray and sacrifice for them more, and invite them to serve the church with singleness and purity of heart as its celibate priests. We can do it!
Make those phones ring!