Yes, I’m finally back on the blog again. For however long that may be.
And the subject that brought not just me but also Bishop Stumbers and the Dean back? Vocations.
From the 7th to the 14th of August (Sunday to Sunday) was Vocations Awareness Week in my local Diocese. Now my personal thoughts on Vocations are certainly very mixed. Yes, I agree that we need vocations, but I have also been on the receiving end of multiple “fish in a barrel” type situations that vary between outright emotionally manipulating men and women into the priesthood and religious life (ie. nuns), respectively, or going through the mutual shared experience of watching priests (or bishops) make absolute clowns of themselves in the ongoing attempt to drum up even the slightest flicker of interest in young people to consider religious life. Hence my first Vocations Week picture starring Bishop Stumbers as a proverbial One-Man Vocations Band, with noise maker.
Let me explain that a little bit. In many places, if you are a youngish man going to church regularly, you are the often the only one in that age group. That means you are going to be fielding all kinds of ‘Have you considered being a priest?’ questions from just about everyone, and because everyone thinks they are the first and only one to have ever asked such a question, the youngish man takes fright, becomes defensive, or at times even explodes with emotion. Unbelievably intense and constant is this kind of pressure from all sorts of well-meaning people. It would be easier if there were other youngish men going to church regularly, then each of us would get fewer well-meaning questions aimed at us.
Now unless you’re in a parish that barely even bats an eyelid at the mere mention of the words Vocations Week (hello), you are more than likely to have been visually assaulted with countless banners, posters, parish bulletin notices, and such a proliferation of vocations-themed flyers about the church that would make even the most energetic pair of rabbits blush. And if so, you would also be familiar with how after these adverts, and particularly posters, have been so enthusiastically put up for Vocations Week, that they are so often left hanging on noticeboards (or elsewhere) totally forgotten about until someone finally comes along and pulls them all down. They’ve been reports of Vocations posters staying up until the next year’s Vocations Week comes along.
It is from this part of Vocations promotion that the second Vocations cartoon has its genesis, although in actual fact, it was the first “gag” of the pair to be thought of.
yI had only just managed to post on Facebook just before midnight on the 14th of August and elsewhere a few seconds after that same stroke of twelve, thus why this cartoon was coloured digitally in black and white (for expediency’s sake). You can see the same image in colour, exclusively, at the top of this post.
Now I do fully admit that I have been using “Vocations” almost exclusively in relation to priestly and religious orders at the exclusion of marriage and single or consecrated life, which are equally valid forms of vocation as stated by the Catholic Church. But if you were to ask any average church goer what ‘vocations’ meant to them they would more than likely respond with either Priests, Nuns, Monks, or all three. Because despite the best efforts of many to remind people that vocations are not just about wearing a dog collar or wimple, or shapeless robes, that is still the prevailing image that comes to many people’s minds. They are actually about responding to God’s personal and specific call. Especially when dioceses are so blatant in their unending desperation for men to join the priesthood in Australia (and in other countries) because of the fear engendered by so many active priests still working beyond retirement age with few below retirement age to replace them, that it undoes any attempt at widening people’s definition of “vocations” and only further entrenches the false notion that “vocations” is just a synonym for priesthood, or maybe religious life.
Look I know that I’m hardly qualified to be talking about any of this and I am not the person to fix it.
The priesthood is being done a disservice by too many people trying to sugar coat or hide all the actual nuts and bolts of that vocation and not equipping people with the knowledge that they are NOT going to be popular, they are Not going to be liked, they Are going to be shouted at and abused, overwhelmed, stuck in red tape, struggling to keep to the schedule of daily prayer, and having to suddenly become a CEO overnight just to run a parish, and that’s before you even get to the actual job description of SAVING SOULS, Feeding the Sheep, Tending the Lambs, forgiving sins through God’s mercy in the confessional and so on.
The kind of teaching young people get about Matrimony at youth events and online in my opinion has become in recent years so top heavy, over chocked full of information, lofty ideals, and scruple inducing aspects of CATHOLIC married life that that it leaves me (and maybe plenty of others) at times cold and wondering if it’s worth the struggle– It is making young people anxious before - or on top of - even getting into the whole jumbled mess of dos and don’ts of Catholic “dating”/courtship and if people suggest consecrated life, it too is presented as needing perfection. Why can’t we just be Bad, or less than perfect, at doing things?
“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly,”
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (1910).
Very rarely does a young person hear, ‘if God calls you to something, He will give you the grace and the resources to do it’, or the truth that ‘in our own strength this is impossible, but with God’s help, everything is possible’, or ‘remember you are not on your own, the Holy Spirit is your helper, your power source’, or ‘if you stuff up, God will not reject you, He will forgive you and help you to keep on going’ or ‘we are all in process towards the holiness God calls us to, it is God’s work in us that we seek to co-operate with, and sometimes this happens in leaps and bounds, but usually it is in slow steps’.
This seems to be normal: getting overwhelmed with so much information that you can hardly move and then having priesthood questions coming up behind you whispering in your ear from people, usually at your lowest ebb, while you struggle with the full weight of these expectations that EVERY SINGLE person can and should live EXACTLY as Humanum Vitae says, or at the highest perfection in any state of life without any leeway for those attempting to live up to it, nor any active support or helping hand to help you get up and try again if you happen to fall short of those expectations.
Before you jump on me, yes, I know that the Church herself has a far better understanding of human nature and human frailty, and that everyone experiences God’s universal call to holiness and universal call to mission. Yes, I know that so many speakers have the best of intentions when they place the vision of the ideal in front of us. But it would be so much more helpful if at the same time they shared their struggles in living out these ideals, and if they shared the ways God has assisted them.
Please be kind to the young persons in your life. Remember the burdens of community hopes and community expectations they bear, and instead of adding yours verbally, pray for them, that they will be able to say Yes to whatever God Himself calls them to do. As much as we need holy priests and holy religious, we need holy artists, holy nurses, holy teachers, holy plumbers, holy parents, holy grandparents, holy shopkeepers and holy bus drivers too, don’t we?
~ Vincent Cavanagh, 23 August 2022.
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