Why would God need us for anything? This sounds like a simple question, but it is very profound; as profound as I get regularly from our ‘young theologians’ (my term) in our first grade class!
The logic goes this way: God can do all things, so why doesn’t He do everything Himself? Why does He call on us to do things for Him? A vocation is a calling from God. I think we can agree that He does not need us, but He still insists on getting our participation in His creative work in the world.
One of the most important presuppositions theologically is that if we are made in the image and likeness of God (first chapters of Genesis) then we must be creators also; and this act of creation must be free. It benefits not just the recipient of the act, but also the doer (the creator). Just as any artist grows by creating, so we become who we are by creating. So that is why God does not do it all Himself. If He did, we would not be made in the image and likeness of God!
To illustrate: if someone asks us to decorate a house and we arrive with a lot of great ideas, how would we feel if everything had already been done? I’m sure we would be disappointed that the owner did not need us or our ideas.
God has given us a beautiful but unfinished world. He asks us to help Him to create a new world based on the freedom of each person. He allows evil into the picture since we must be able to freely have alternatives. We can choose against Him as crazy as that may be! He therefore calls some of us to special service in what is completely God’s world. But because human beings like to take possession of things, we live in the fiction that this is our world and that we contact God only in special places called Churches and with special help from those consecrated to God. So He allows for sacred places and calls some to sacred roles in what is really a world filled with His presence. He inspires prophets to call us back to the right road when we listen to evil and walk in our own ways. This is the world as we know it, where there is darkness and light, truth and error.
In the Church, there are those called to roles of sacred service for the good of the whole community. In Catholicism, this is chiefly the vocations of Priesthood (and by extension the Episcopacy and the Diaconate) and the Consecrated life (which includes monks, nuns, friars, brothers and sisters, hermits, etc.). These callings are essential for the life of the Body of Christ. Yet the response to these callings is affected by the prevalent culture and the individual freedom of each person that is being called to this special role in the Church.
Here in the United States, we are experiencing a sharp decline in the number of vocations. Just look at our own Convent. There were 18 Sisters living in that building, all them working for the most part in the ministry of teaching in Immaculate Conception School. But because of the lack of vocations, they aged, and some died, with no one younger to care for them. The Rectory at one point had 6 active working Priests. We now have only three of us assigned. We are one of the lucky ones since some parishes are down to only two, one or even no Priests! This has happened over the course of only 50 years. Did God stop calling people to these traditional roles of service in the Church?
I don’t think it is true that God has stopped calling people to service in the Church. For instance, there are many more lay people working in the Church. Catholic School Teachers, CCD catechists, liturgical ministers etc. are now lay people. This is a wonderful thing, but it does not fully answer the question regarding God’s call. A full lifetime commitment is essential to a vocation. To devote all of one’s life to poverty, chastity and obedience, which is the essence of the consecrated life, is still a special, demanding and necessary call in the Church. In addition, one needs Priests since we are a sacramental church. The Eucharist is at the center of our life as a Church, but without Priests there is no Eucharist!
So why are there less Priests and religious in America? Is God still calling them?
I believe that God is still calling, but that the culture, secular and godless, makes answering the call very problematic for young people. They have to go against what they see constantly on TV and the Internet. If sex is an ultimate value, and even a right, then to forgo it and live a life of abstinence and celibacy is the height of the ridiculous. Yet at the same time, Celibacy emerges as a truly countercultural statement and therefore becomes even more compelling in its prophetic and challenging nature. But the Church must also step up to teach, support and challenge by a vibrant faith life those called to these essential ministries.
Are we as a parish community doing that?
Bishop DiMarzio has declared this to be a year of vocations. Let’s see what the Church is doing and what we as a parish can do to support and enhance this radical vision in the Church.