Since we have seen that we must all work to make our Church, and in particular our parish, a fervent center of devotion to be able to become the sound tree that will produce the fruit of vocations (The Call, Parts I – III), the question naturally arises: how do we do this?
Firstly, I think this is the wrong question. More exactly, what it should be is: how do I do this? All ecclesial action must begin with the individual Catholic Christian saying, “I will do this!” Otherwise, we are condemned to inaction since the Church is a community of persons, each of whom have been given the free will to choose or not to choose the right thing. Only when I choose the good thing over the bad or wrong things am I truly free. This is an important distinction. We have free will as a gift, but we have freedom only when we freely choose what God wants us to choose since He knows what is truly best for us. In modern terms, we often use the word ‘freedom’ when we mean ‘free will’. It is only freedom when free will moves us in the direction that is creative and good and willed by God. To go in the other direction is termed ‘license’ and it is everywhere considered a negative in the spiritual journey.
So, when I choose to live a more fervent prayer life, when I choose to forgive my neighbor from my heart, when I worship God each day as the most important reality of my life, when I choose to be more observant of Church teaching, and then when I join other parishioners of the same mind and heart, then and only then does the tree become sound and the fruit begin to appear.
This is a mysterious process because it involves the action of God on the human person and that action is invisible and impossible to quantify. We often see the result (e.g. a vocation) yet are at a loss to explain where it came from.
As the process of sanctification continues in the individual parishioner, the second stage, which is the mysterious complexus of interrelationships and communal efforts, takes place. This network of individuals being purified forms a people that are holy and, in that holiness, inspiring. When a young man or young woman sees that the spiritual is the ultimate value and that concern for God’s will undergirds all the daily activities of life (family, work, friendship etc.), then, naturally and imperceptibly, that young soul, idealistic and open, wants to be part of what is most important in life. If that entails a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, then they will want to live that life with a powerful enthusiasm that laughs at the difficulties and sacrifices involved. The young person begins to see that it is not the money or the power or the fame that brings meaning, but it is found in humility and meekness before the awesome love of God. Suddenly the tree is laden with fragrant fruit!
As good Americans, we think that throwing money at a problem or finding the right person will turn things around quickly. I am suggesting that this is a mistaken idea. Concern for vocations is not up to a program, nor up to good examples of priesthood (though this helps!), nor renewed awareness (though this doesn’t hurt!), because this is an ecclesial issue that requires a Church-wide approach. This is especially true given the now adversarial secular culture in which we live.
So the challenge for us in this year of Vocations is to make up our minds, individually, to live more devout and more observant religious lives. It means putting attendance on Masses and religious services on the highest rung of priorities. When children see full churches again; when families attend masses together; when the question no longer is, “Do we have to do it?” but rather becomes, “What more can I do, what more can I give, what more can I sacrifice?”, then we will begin producing more vocations for the wider Church.
This needs to happen not just in our parish. The lived life of the priest must be renewed so that the call of the Lord does not result in being introduced into a way of life that is decadent and materially oriented. Religious life must be moving more and more to a rigorous adherence to original charisms. This is what I mean when I said that this is a task for the whole Church. No one can do this on their own. It is too big. Only God can renew the Church to make it more fervent, more filled with devotion.
But every cell of the Body of Christ needs to do its part in remaining faithful and in trying to strain toward this fulfillment. This is why we must do our part, as individual Catholics and as distinct parochial communities, to welcome the new Kingdom of God that He is forming in our midst.