From the Monitor to the Monastery

Each spring, Bishop John Nevins of the Diocese of Venice, Fla., invites various priests, religious and laity for an Easter dinner at his house.

I was fortunate to be on the guest list this year.

I sat next to a Carmelite priest and we discussed, among other subjects, vocations. The Carmelite province father runs a few Catholic high schools. They receive some vocations by staying in touch with students after graduation. But, he assured me, most of their vocations in the United States come through the Internet.

I wasn't surprised to hear that. The same is true for my community. Most vocational inquiries we get come from the web. Some still come from the Guide to Religious Ministries, nicknamed the Blue Book after the color of its cover. It lists religious communities of men and women for free, along with descriptions, and the book is updated annually. But now even the famous (well, famous in religious-community circles) Blue Book is online. Anyone can read it at religiousministries.com.

It is hard to beat an online vocation page, as compared with the same information in print, for a number of reasons. For one thing, the cost of a vocation page is minimal; the reach, worldwide. Further, one can include multimedia information including pictures, audio and video clips. And a vocational inquiry is easy from the user end, too — just send an e-mail. When we receive a vocational inquiry through the mail or by telephone, we always refer the individual to the vocation page on the website for more information. We do have a printed vocation booklet, but we only use it when online access is impossible for a prospective vocational candidate.

A number of religious communities are struggling to get new vocations. This has led to more aggressive recruitment techniques. The Maryk-noll Mission Society, founded in the United States, has produced a TV commercial. I was visiting my parents when I saw the spot and found it quite impressive. Of course, the society has a website at maryknoll. org. I have also seen its paid banner advertising on Catholic websites such as catholic.org.

The Vincentians' eastern province recently revamped its website at vincentians.net and has seen a 50% jump in vocation inquiries coming from the United States, Western Europe and South America. So successful has the website been that the Vincentians are considering it to represent the order for the entire country.

The website has a link to “Vincentians in the News.” Click here and you bring up stories of ordinations, final vows and such along with audio and video selections of Vincentians in action. Coupled with this are links to “Discernment Resources,” “Formation Programs” and “Questions & Answers.” And the website will soon be available in Spanish.

Some of this growth in the Vincentians' vocational web presence might be related to another technique they're employing — a business-card-sized CD-ROM that has been distributed to college students at St. John's and Niagara universities in New York as well as to youth-ministry programs in various Vincentian parishes in the eastern province. Images, video and text provide information about the Vincentian community, its ministries and those involved along with web links highlighting the worldwide lay organizations.

“The CD-ROM was devised with the help of a consultant with great expertise in this new type of technology,” says Vincentian Father John Maher, director of the Vincentian vocation ministry for the eastern province. “It contains what young people seek the most: a combination of information and inspiration.”

Gone Fishing

Meanwhile, vocation.com bills itself as the Web's most comprehensive Catholic vocation resource. It includes testimonies, common questions and answers and more. While it's a Legionaries of Christ site, it has netted more vocations for dioceses and other religious congregations by its expansive approach.

Nor is it only religious communities that are exploring technological avenues for vocational-outreach.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., has the vocations.com URL. Its site is the first to appear for those who run a Google search for “vocations.” Here you can explore the “Diocesan Priesthood: After the Heart of Jesus” link. Of course, there is also information for those interested in religious life, the deaconate, lay-ministry opportunities and secular institutes.

Do all Internet inquiries lead to a vocation in the religious life or diocesan priesthood? Certainly not. But the technology offers a way to “put into the deep and cast your nets for a catch” right where young people (or late bloomers) are likely to be “swimming.”

God is still calling people to priestly and religious vocations. But now he has to reach them in a culture that is indifferent at best and hostile at worst toward those who pursue religious vows, especially in the Catholic Church — to say nothing of the prevailing attitude toward Catholic vocations recruiters.

Most families are small and parents want their children to marry for the joy of having grandchildren. I have been in Catholic countries where it is the pride and joy of parents to have one of their children become a priest or religious. (And, poor as they are, unlike us, somehow they manage to support large families!) Unfortunately, that sentiment has all but disappeared from a number of Catholic homes in America.

Even before the recent scandals, a bishop I know was encouraging a youth to become a priest and his mother responded, “God forbid he become a priest!”

Like the early Church that was driven out of Jerusalem by persecution, today's religious communities and dioceses must cast their nets into uncharted waters. Then, through the work of the Holy Spirit, generous and joyful men and women will have a chance to hear God's voice and respond with undivided hearts.

Jesus is calling. Is his voice being heard?

Brother John Raymond, co-founder of the Monks of Adoration, writes from Venice, Florida.

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