The Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, is a day set aside for praying more particularly for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. This year the National Office for Vocation has released some encouraging statistics for England and Wales. If we look at the figures for 2010, 2011 and 2012 we find the following:
entrants to congregations of Religious Sisters are up: 10, 17 and 23 respectively (there are no figures currently available for monasteries of cloistered nuns);
entrants to orders of priests are up: 19, 19 and 30 respectively;
entrants to orders of brothers, by contrast, show no admissions for the past three years.
Turning to seminary admissions and ordinations, we find the following:
diocesan seminary entrants: 36, 49, 37 respectively, which is better than in some former years;
ordinations to the diocesan priesthood are up: 19, 20 and 31 respectively, with 41 projected for the current year. These figures do not include former Anglican clergy nor priests ordained for religious orders.
To what, under God, can we attribute these increases? My own answer doesn’t pretend to be be based on anything other than ‘anecdotal evidence’. In times of national or international stress, as after the Second World War or during the current economic recession, people tend to reflect more deeply on life and its purpose. The automatic choices of the past are no longer so automatic. If one has only one life and wants to use it well, how can one best do so? There is also the fact that the National Office of Vocation, like individual orders and congregations, has done its best to create a culture of vocation, making it easier for people to find out about the many ways of serving Christ in the Church. The Propadeutic Year at the English College, Valladolid, an introductory couse of training and discernment for prospective seminarians, has been voted a great success by those who have undertaken it.
We should not underestimate the part played by the internet in enabling videos, online conferences and up to date information of various kinds to be available cheaply and widely. Not only is vocation information more easily available, it reaches a wider audience. No longer are vocations drawn just from local society, they come now from different countries. Nearly all the vocation enquiries we receive come from people who have found us via the internet. Indeed, we have a postulant entering in June (please God) who is a U.S. citizen. Her first contact with us was via the internet, and we have used video conferencing as part of our ongoing discernment process.
Encouraging as the National Office of Vocation figures are, they are still lower than those we have seen in the comparatively recent past and by no means adequate to ensure the continuance of the levels of service to which we have become accustomed. That begs the question: what are families doing to promote and foster vocations? How would you react if your son or daughter were to announce that he or she wished to become a priest or join a religious order? More than that, are you doing anything to help your sons and daughters see the priesthood or religious life as a worthwhile choice? These are not idle questions. Priestly and religious vocations come from ordinary families just like yours. The truth is, just as the lives of each us have an effect on others, so a religious or priestly vocation is the vocation not merely of the individual but of the family to which he or she belongs. Ultimately, it is the person which is the vocation, and the gift of self is also the gift of one’s family.