by Jerry Usher
In the Book of Jeremiah, God tells His people, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart.” He was assuring them that He would never abandon them, would never leave them without spiritual leadership. The Church has always seen this passage as applying to both the Old and New Testament People of God.
There have been many in recent decades who have insisted that the Church must change Her teachings on Holy Orders. In other words, they advocate for married priests, women priests, and an assortment of other anomalies that have never been part of the Church’s divinely-inspired understanding of the priesthood.
Thankfully, those days are quickly fading. In fact, one is hard-pressed to find individuals or organizations that champion such positions today. But the truth remains that the Church did experience a dramatic decrease in priestly vocations over the last several decades. Many factors can be identified as the reasons for this. However, I believe our energies are better spent on analyzing and advancing what is quite clearly a turnaround in both the quantity and quality of priestly vocations.
As one who spent six years in formation for the priesthood, and who still maintains a deep love of the priesthood and desire to promote priestly vocations, I can say with certainty that the so called vocations “shortage,” or “crisis,” is over. Everywhere I go, I meet vibrant, orthodox young – and, sometimes, not so young – men who are responding to what they believe is a call from God to discern the priesthood as their life’s vocation.
This reality is all the more encouraging when we look at the cultural landscape and the state of the family today, and consider several other factors you would think would mitigate against an increase in vocations.
The statistics regarding divorce and the breakdown of the family alone would be enough to cause one to do a double take when reading about the large numbers of men entering the seminary today. And we’re all still painfully aware of the damage that was done by a small number of priests that came to light at the height of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Church. Factor in the stifling noise, distractions and temptations in modern society, and it would seem the deck is stacked in favor of fewer men presenting themselves as candidates for the priesthood, not more.
Yet, I hear regularly about seminaries that are full to capacity, and temporary housing being erected to accommodate overflow enrollment. I’ve even heard in recent years of the building of new seminaries in the United States, as well as a marked increase in the number of men attending college seminaries.
This all represents terrific news for the Church in this country. And that says nothing about the throngs of men who are applying for entry into the seminary in countries in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere throughout the world. The only thing preventing many dioceses and religious orders in some nations from accepting the sometimes hundreds of men who apply each year is a lack of financial resources. Otherwise, the explosion of vocations would be much more dramatic than it already is.
What are the reasons for the “success” the Church is seeing in recruiting men for the priesthood today? I’ll cite only three here, though it’s certain that many more could be listed.
The first and most obvious reason is that the Holy Spirit is pouring out graces upon the Church and the world, and one area where this is manifested is in the number of men responding to the promptings they are receiving to discern the priesthood. While God is being pushed out of virtually every sector of culture and society by those who cannot stand the thought of conforming their lives to the requirements of the gospel, His call is breaking through in new and exciting ways, including Catholic radio, TV, the social media, and more.
Second, I believe that men of faith are responding in a manner similar to the way that patriotic men respond when their nation is being threatened or is under siege. Much like how the latter would flock to recruitment offices to enlist in the military and come to the aid of their country, young Catholic men today have a keen sense of the looming threats to their Church, and are moved by that realization to “enlist” and give their lives in service to the Church. Taking nothing away from those who enlist in the military, it remains true that those who become priests are fighting for something even greater – the honor and glory of Jesus Christ and the salvation of immortal souls.
The third reason I feel the Church is seeing an increase in the number of seminarians is due to the resurgence of solid catechesis, often through radio, social media, apologetics outreaches, and more. Young men today have unprecedented access to the teachings of the Church, as well as opportunities to enter into dialogue about those teachings.
Let us all advance the work of the Church regarding priestly vocations by virtue of our prayers and sacrifices. The lives of countless souls depend on it.
Jerry Usher is the former host of Catholic Answers Live and is the founder of Vocation Boom, an organization that encourages young men to consider the priesthood as their life’s vocation. Vocation Boom does this through its web site, a weekly radio show, and, soon, a weekly television program. You can find more resources and inspiration for priestly vocations at vocationboom.com.