By FATHER RICKY ORDOÑEZ
Special to The New Vision
Traditionally, the first full week of January has always been declared “Vocations Awareness Week.”
After weeks of celebrating Christmas and the New Year, the challenge has been to try and get people to slip into a thinking mode serious enough to realize the importance of the awareness on a great need for vocations – especially ones to the priesthood and religious life. This year, it will be the week of Jan. 9-14.
Since generations past, Vocation Directors have been challenged to create a “culture of vocations” where people are aware of the great need for a new generation of priests – a number that had seen a steady decline since the late 60’s.
One may say that it was due to a “revolution of sorts” – a great changing of the mind where doing the unconventional and, simply, rebelling to the norm was deemed “cool” or even “generationally acceptable.”
In hindsight, I can just say, “Oh, how terribly wrong we were!” Where are all those who had spoken out about organized religion? Those who sported long hair, wore sandals, tie-dyed shirts and shouted, “Make love not war”? For a lot of them, they had spurned their faith only to embrace a life of unabashed “freedom to do what they will.”
If my math is right, they are now in their 60’s, have children who are just beginning to raise their own…..and have a lot of time for reflecting on how they led their lives. And do they like what they see? Hmmm.
As the Vocation Director, I have paid much attention to what people say is the cause for a decline in vocations to the priesthood in particular and faith in general. One comment is that man’s quest is for freedom and not having to live a life of rules and regulations as generally perceived how priests live.
Well, for one who entered priesthood “later in life,” I must say, “On the contrary!”
Life as a priest has been totally liberating. To know that I am finally free from constantly running after what the world says how one should live, should have and should believe in, is true freedom.
Of course, we live by rules and regulations, but who does not? We pay taxes, follow traffic regulations, pay our car payments – but we’ve been freed from wanton desire for excess – more money in the bank, bigger and flashier cars, luxury vacations and bigger homes.
And are priests unhappy? Absolutely not! Forbes magazine has listed “clergy” as having the highest rate of “job” satisfaction – way beyond those who earn ten times more.
If there is a decline in priesthood, it may be traced to it being discarded as an option for the young people of past and present generations….perpetrated by a culture that defines success with power, position and money.
So many have come to me to say that they felt they had a vocation to the priesthood but never got any encouragement from their families and friends. Today, they may be financially successful, but joy and a deep sense of fulfillment continue to be elusive.
Our 13 seminarians are great men of determination, focus and commitment. They, too, have, like many in the “swinging sixties and seventies generation, gone past the “accepted norm” of our times. However, instead of allowing themselves to succumb to the pressures of a materialistic society, they have chosen to pursue a vocation to serve God and His people – a path that may be empty of worldly pleasures and success, but filled to the brim with great joy and fulfillment.
I remember the late actor John Wayne having said, “It takes a REAL MAN to do what is right.” I say, it takes an even BIGGER MAN TO DO WHAT GOD WANTS!
Vocation Awareness Week happens at the beginning of the year, bringing to fore its importance in our lives. It is to remind us that we shouldn’t only think about it for one week in the year, but to realize that it should be part of our agenda for the rest of 2012.
There are, present in your youth groups and parishes, among your children and grandchildren, members of your family and friends who are called to a vocation to Priesthood and Religious life.
We just need to identify, encourage, invite and, above all, pray for them so that they may have the courage and strength to rise above their hesitation in answering God’s call.