Do we have a vocations crisis because we have a contraception crisis?

Fr. Dwight Longenecker thinks so.

And I agree.

I once listened to an enthusiastic young priest give a passionate sermon about the lack of vocations. His proposed “solutions” were that we should encourage more young men to consider becoming deacons and allow for married priests.

I sat on my hands and said nothing, but all I could think was that he was ignoring the contraceptive elephant in the room. I thought, “Why doesn’t he see that if people had more children, we would have more priests?”

It’s not just about numbers, either. Of course if you increase the population of practicing Catholics you increase the pool for potential vocations. But you also increase the likelihood that parents will encourage their sons to consider the priesthood.

I have five sons. I would be delighted if God called any one of them to become a priest. If I had an only son, however, I can see how that delight might be tinged with just a bit of hesitation. What about grandchildren? What about future generations of Beans? These things do matter to parents. Couples who use contraception to limit their family size to “small” or “manageable” are more likely to feel that having a priest for a son costs them something. However silly or selfish that kind of thinking might be, it is real.

But Fr. Longenecker sees an even deeper connection between contraception and our current shortage of priests. Contraception, he reasons, gives young men the false impression that married life is the “easy” way out.

“Now, because of artificial contraception, the whole underlying assumptions and expectations about marriage have shifted. Marriage is no longer a way to give all, but a way to have it all. Therefore, when a young person today considers a religious vocation, they are not choosing between different paths of self-sacrifice; they are choosing between a life that seems to have it all and a life that seems to have nothing. They must choose between a home in the suburbs, 2.5 nice children, and a double income or total self denial. The choice is between a familiar form of hedonism or an inexplicable form of heroism.”

I never thought about the vocations crisis being rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of marriage, but of course it is.

We are all called to lives of self-sacrifice—some of us through marriage and some of us through religious vocations. A more common Catholic understanding of this fundamental truth will lead to happier more fulfilling marriages ... and more priests. As Fr. Longenecker puts it:

“Once young people who are searching for their vocation come to realize that they must decide to either die to self through marriage or die to self through a religious vocation, they will not only become far more realistic about marriage, but they will also view the religious life in a more attractive light.”