If you read the Catholic Star Herald, our diocesan newspaper, you are probably aware that Bishop Dennis Sullivan ordained one priest and one transitional deacon this year for service in our diocese. Yep, one priest and one deacon ordained this year. I then referred to our provincial directory and realized that there were six diocesan priests who died in 2015. As I am writing this, I received notice of the death and funeral arrangements for another diocesan priest this coming Saturday.
For some time now, more priests die and retire than we see ordained for our diocese. The Diocese of Camden was blessed for many years to have a fairly large number of priests to supply the needs of the people. Many rectories had two or more priests living in them. Things, however, have changed regarding the number of active priests. Fortunately, the retired priests in our area continue to supply some of our needs—especially Mass on the weekends.
The Gospel this past Sunday (Luke 10: 1-12. 17-20) and (today 7/5/16) at Tuesday’s daily Mass (Mt. 9: 32-38) contain the words of Jesus: The harvest is abundant but laborers are few. . . . He tells us to ask—to pray—to the master of the harvest for workers. Do we? Everyday? Do we pray for and encourage vocations to the priesthood and religious life in our own families?
I have heard it suggested to me on numerous occasions what the church needs is married priests or women priests. I know a married Orthodox priest who once told me, “Don’t let them tell you that married priests is the solution to the vocation crisis. Our priests can marry and we still have a shortage.” Protestant ministers, who are usually married, tell me much of the same. They still see a decline in clergy (as well as church attendance). By the way, the option of women priests in the Roman Catholic Church was officially closed by St. John Paul II when he wrote the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and stated:
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.
For me, the crux of the problem is multi-faceted. Our society does not revolve around God or the importance of faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is minimized or seen as irrelevant. Many, if not most, Catholic families do not go to Mass each week, if they indeed go at all. Our cultural values teach the young to be successful and wealthy, but not necessary to do what God wants you to do. Priests, in general, have been ostracized (dare I say demonized?) and are seen as “suspect” by the media and others for the horrible and most-regrettable sins of a few. The moral authority of the Church is undermined, mocked and seen as extraneous to daily life. People are no longer taught or are willing to make sacrifices in life, as evidenced by a lack of those responding to a priestly or religious vocation (and even to the many demands required by married life).
I give tremendous credit to those men and women who answer the “call” today and attempt to follow the Lord’s invitation to be a priest, sister, deacon or religious. The world needs them now more than ever to be bold, counter-cultural disciples in a world of confusion, doubt and even hatred towards all things Christian.
The rest of us must continue to pray most fervently.
Fr. Ed Namiotka