Monday, June 25, 2012
New Guidelines for Promoting Priestly Vocations
One of the problems diocesan Vocation Directors face is the opposition of those who claim it is wrong to promote specifically priestly vocations. The idea is that we should promote vocations in general. But why? Certainly the experience has been that some protagonists of this new theory have even been unclear as to what they mean by vocation, including teachers, doctors and nurses in their catch-all vocational soup. Diocesan Vocation Directors have a specific remit (to promote vocations to the diocesan priesthood) and a limited budget to fulfil their task. It is unreasonable for them to be criticised for producing publicity materials and vocational resources to achieve that end, rather than posters publicising religious life, marriage, or indeed one of the secular professions.
Religious Orders should, of course, be the ones primarily promoting religious life. After all, the best way to promote a specific vocation is to live it joyfully. These days it can help to invest in modern means of communication to get the message across. The Dominicans did so last year when they commissioned four excellent short videos to express different aspects of their charism. There is a lot of multi-media competition out there and the target audience is quite critical in the positive sense - so orders need to invest money and do things really well. Photographs of hugging rodents and sunlight through trees stuck onto pastel card with scripture quotations may have worked in the 1970's but have no place in the modern world. What other organisation is using publicity concepts and forms that are forty years old? It is difficult for the religious congregations because there are so many of them and they have a wide variety of charisms and specific apostolates. Fortunately the religious orders now have the National Office for Vocation that will be able to give them increasingly professional advice and it is good to see that the Director of the National Office, himself a Benedictine, is working hard to win over the trust and confidence of religious congregations. Perhaps on the supposition that they must be going somewhere, it is occasionally suggested that girls must be approaching the diocesan Vocations Director as their first port of call. In my experience that is quite rare. Sr Cathy at the National Office can now help put such a person in touch with a Samuel Group or some other discernment opportunity.
The Diocesan Vocation Directors are responsible for one initiative that is not an activity of the National Office for Vocation but is nevertheless wider than just priestly vocations. That initiative is the annual Invocation Festival which brings together young people from all over the country for a weekend of prayer and discernment. There are many people who want us to change the way we run Invocation but we have found that our formula works and this year's festival looks like being bigger and better than ever. Of course the fact that we run an annual festival does not preclude others from coming up with their own initiatives (obviously they would have to come up with their own name - which can sometimes be the hardest thing!). The important thing is to reach as many young people as possible. Counter-intuitively it may help our vocations work if we spoke less about vocation and more about discipleship. If young people learn to embrace the demands of discipleship the question of vocation will arise spontaneously. When we speak to them about being disciples we have to focus on the basics: a disciple is one who sits at the feet of Jesus and learns from him. Drinking Traidcraft coffee may possibly be a good thing (if it has improved!) but it is not the essence of Christian discipleship.
In general, however, Diocesan Vocation Directors stick to the job of promoting priestly vocations. Today I am pleased to report that our work has been vindicated and confirmed the Holy Father himself with the publication of specific Guidelines for the Promotion of Priestly Vocations. The document speaks of the importance of promoting priestly vocations. You can read the whole text of this welcome document by clicking the Guidelines page on this Blog.