The Lord gives us a clue to the answer that we were searching for in our last essay (The Call – Part I, 9/17/17): Why are there so few vocations here in the United States when we need them? The Lord says in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew that a good tree produces good fruit and a rotten tree produces rotten fruit. Could it be that it is what we have become as a Church that makes the fruit of vocations so scarce? This is not a pleasant conclusion but we need to look at it.
I am not simply saying that we, as a Church, need to implement a vocation program that will turn things all around. Many good programs have been proposed and implemented, but they have not been the answer. We certainly should have programs that assist those called to find and accept their calling from God. But the problem goes deeper.
As we look at the communities where there are many vocations being produced, such as in India, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Haiti, we find examples of vibrant faith, truly intense spiritual liturgies, and a strong prayer life in families. This was true here in the United States when vocations were plentiful. It was not odd to see families gathered in the evening saying the rosary together. When do we see this today? Families were usually larger as children were not seen as economic burdens but as gifts from God. Church was not what you did on Sunday, but was the center of community life as it is today in the aforementioned countries.
In these countries, people travel to Mass having made great sacrifices to be there, sometimes walking many miles early in the morning. Consequently, Mass is more than an ordinary reflexive action that we do each day, but a deeply spiritual experience.
What I find hard to describe is what we have lost: the sense of the supernatural that makes all sacrifices worth it, and that elevates the religious to a place high above other activities. This ‘Vertical Dimension’ creates the ambience, the environment that makes vocations grow and prosper. While the ‘Horizontal Dimension’ is important in the development of community life, it is the vertical that establishes our connection with the spiritual world and our future in Christ.
We see the unfortunate movement away from the Vertical Dimension of faith when we consider the change in appreciation of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In the past, we had a deep reverence for the Eucharist. We knelt before the host. We received on our tongues. Only the Priest could touch the Eucharist, and even the sacred vessels of the Chalice and Ciborium were handled only by those ordained to do so.
But today, even some ordinary church going Catholics see the Holy Eucharist as only a sign of the presence of Christ in the community. That is why Catholics are very blasé about receiving Communion, and even though they are clearly not in the state of grace (perhaps through an invalid marriage or even cohabitation,) they think that it is their right to be able to receive Communion. In a recent survey of “churchgoing” Catholics, a majority did not think the Eucharist was the true and real presence of Christ! Given this heretical belief, it is not surprising that these Catholics see no problem in having everyone receive Holy Communion, even those who do not share our Catholic Faith. They think it impolite not to offer Communion to everyone irrespective of that person’s belief system. The Body of Christ has become a mere sign of hospitality, a sort of canapé to be offered to guests!
The truth is that one should approach Holy Communion with an element of fear of the Lord. To receive the Lord unworthily is a very serious if not mortal sin.
My use of this example is to demonstrate that the fall-off in vocations parallels the loss of belief in the Supernatural bases of our faith. We used to approach the vocations of Priesthood and Religious Life with a deep sense of awe that made the sacrifices involved (poverty, chastity and obedience, celibacy) worth it. People looked up to those called and a family felt honored to be chosen by God for this selection.
Unless we reassert our faith in the Supernatural bases of our belief, especially in this materialistic world, we will continue to see a decline that threatens the very existence of the Church as we know it.