Volume > Issue > Our Vocations Crisis is Man-Made

Our Vocations Crisis is Man-Made


By Tom Fath | April 1998
Tom Fath is a writer in Lexington, Kentucky.

The number of men in American seminaries preparing for the priesthood is one-tenth of what it was 30 years ago. There is a similar lack of candidates for religious life. This situation is very troubling. And what’s the cause? Is our pool of vocations simply drying up, evaporating into thin air? No, this shrunken pool can best be understood by examining not the pond itself but its sources upstream. I’ve done a little surveying in that area, and my report contains bad news and good. The bad news is that there are severe obstructions choking off the flows that feed this vital Catholic resource; the good news is that all the obstructions are man-made, and can, with some effort, be removed.

The first obstruction is our confusion about what God can do and what man alone can do. A little story may illustrate: There was a certain pastor who was tired of his parish being perpetually in debt. Everywhere he saw ads for the huge jackpots available in the lottery, so he began praying to God to direct that money, or some of it, to his church. The jackpot got bigger and bigger as week after week there was no winner. The priest kept praying but one day finally said to God in frustration, “You said you would always be there to answer prayer — so how come you aren’t answering my petition?” After a moment, God replied, “Will you help me out just a little on this one — and at least buy a ticket?”

Thirty years ago the average Catholic family had 4.3 children; today, thanks in part to artificial birth control, the number is around 1.7 children. We fret about the drop in candidates for the priesthood and religious life. But surely one of the solutions would be to increase the number of Catholic boys and girls, by a decision on the part of married couples to have more children. Since we choose to do otherwise, it is not God who is letting us down — it is we who are letting down both God and ourselves. We are praying to win the vocations lottery, and God is responding, “Buy a ticket — have more children.” We know that, traditionally, by far the most religious vocations have come from larger families, so our collective decision to have smaller families is clearly a major upstream obstruction.

My mother had six children who provided her with 33 grandchildren. And now, just one generation later, my wife and I have raised seven children (ages 27 to 42) and we have only five grandchildren. So who changed? Was it God? No, it is my children’s generation that has changed — for today it is rare to hear two newlyweds say that they are planning on having more than two children. More often than not their plan is, “We are not going to have any children until we get established financially and get our careers off the ground.” So the begetting of children is no longer a primary purpose of marriage — though the Church teaches that it is. Unfortunately, the Catholic mind has changed dramatically, seduced and befuddled by consumerism and materialism.

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