You know, during the several years that I have been on CAF, I have known several priests, brothers, sisters and one nun who tried to post on these vocation threads. We all know each other. I know two who know another three and those know about three more. It’s like a little network. The one thing that we often share via PMs, when we can speak to each other by first names, is the fact that people post on the vocation forums, but they don’t seem to pay attention to what we’re saying. This is very frustrating, to the point that several of these men and women who really want to promote vocations to their diocese, their orders or the priesthood and religious life in general, often feel that they cannot do so on this forum.
The secular lay people who come onto this forum don’t give the people who are living the life a hearing. We try to point out what religious life is and how it is lived; no one wants to discuss that.
To discuss vocations one must understand certain things. We often try to point them out and explain them, but people don’t want to discuss them. I’ll give a few examples of topics that get swept under the carpet around here.
One major one that a man thinking about priesthood should know about is the difference between the priesthood and the consecrated life. They are not the same and will never be the same. People just ignore us and move on to their idea of what priesthood is.
The fact that males have options: diaconate, priesthood, and brotherhood. Everyone wants to talk about priesthood. Two of the three options are dismissed.
You cannot appreciate celibacy unless you appreciate the sacredness of marriage. People seem to want to either push celibacy without explaining it in the light of marriage or they want to do away with it. They don’t discuss the relationship between the two.
Then there are the different forms of religious life: religious orders, secular orders, secular institutes, societies of apostolic life, religious congregations all offering beautiful ways to holiness. We mention these, people sail right past them back to priesthood, without placing priests in proper context.
I don’t know how many times we have explained that a diocesan priest is a secular man, not a consecrated man. People come back and start attributing to him qualities that are not appropriate for secular man, but belong to the consecrated man, despite the fact that those of us who live the life are saying, “We’re not the same and we don’t want to be the same.” It’s as if posters want to dictate what God decides regarding vocations.
There are so many options for women. A woman can be a sister, a nun, a secular religious, a consecrated virgin or a wife and mother. These never get a hearing. At least one of these options can be combined with marriage and motherhood.
The distinct charisms in the Church get ignored, even when they are presented: hermit, monastic, mendicant, clerk regular for men. Hermit, monastic and sisterhood and consecrated virgin for women. They get ignored too.
There are many reasons for the decline in parish priests that have nothing to do with celibacy. A lot has to do with Vatican II’s demand that those priests who belong to religious orders go back to being religious and drop out of parishes and that those religious orders that were not founded as orders for priests cut back on the surplus of priests or the fact that Vatican II demanded that religious orders of priests, brothers and sisters that were founded to do other work that is not parish, leave the parishes. The impression that one gets is that the only concern here is the parish, because that’s where I am. The other needs of the Church or the gifts that these communities bring to the Church are not important to me. Then there is the fact that people seem not to want to understand what a secular priest is supposed to do and is not expected to do by the Church herself.
Posters are never going to get straight answers about the different vocations if this community is not open to learning about them from those who are there. Even marriage is not well discussed here.
Why can’t these threads welcome and allow the deacons, priests, and religious to share what the call is about and ask questions for understanding, instead of arguing what it should be according to the point of view of the poster? The few of us who come to this forum want to help those who are discerning. Can the secular lay poster let us do that, without the arguing or the redirecting? The information is pretty straightforward, if people want to hear it.
Marriage, Holy Orders and consecrated life are beautiful and everyone can benefit, if we learn to listen, ask the right questions and avoid trying to dictate what these ways of life should be.
Br. JR, OSF