Priest shortage? What priest shortage?
From where I'm sitting, it looks as though the trend is turning. In addition, it looks like it has everything to do with the Holy Spirit using the witness of Pope John Paul II to call good men to the altar.
I have been fortunate to interview, for magazine articles, eight men ordained over the past two years. All are faithful, highly qualified, dedicated priests. They're ready to love and serve the Church. From what I've heard, it seems that the same type of men are being ordained throughout the country.
“That's all great,” you might say, “but isn't it going to take several decades to make up for the steady decline since the middle of the 20th century, and to get back to where we should be as far as the number of priests that we need?”
Perhaps. But now it's no longer just John Paul or a few bishops or priests who lead others to the priesthood. As these new men are ordained and begin serving, their enthusiasm and holiness is drawing many others.
At our diocesan ordination in early June, almost all of the priests of the Diocese of Lansing, Mich., were there to welcome the five new members into their ranks. It would be difficult for any young man present not to be affected.
Like the 16-year-old sitting next to us. I noticed him every once in a while during the Mass. He was paying attention, participating, understanding, engrossed. Not at all like me at that age.
Afterward, I asked him if was going to be up there on the altar some day. “It could happen,” he replied. Behind his ready answer and the enthusiastic look in his eye were the unspoken words: “It's a long way off, but I hope, I really hope, that God is calling me.”
Instead of avoiding or not even considering the priesthood because they would much rather do something else, a growing number of young men are hoping that they will be called. They are getting a glimpse of a life of adventure, challenge and sacrifice. A life of knowing and following Jesus with other men — men of outstanding character with whom they can do their part to save souls and change lives.
Youth are looking for meaning, for something to devote their lives to. That was evident in the untold hordes of young people who showed up in Rome for John Paul's funeral. It was a statement that the Church is still — and ever — young, as Pope Benedict reminded us.
The youth are taking over. The priesthood is for young men with fire in their heart, with a zeal that can consume. In addition, as more of them answer the call, becoming role models themselves, they will make the priesthood even more enthralling to those who are looking — just as John Paul did on a large scale.
Right now, we talk about the shortage of priests in America. Before long we will be wondering where they all came from. Instead of one or two in a parish, or one for several parishes, there will be a number serving together at each parish. Their brotherhood will attract even more.
When our bishop held his annual luncheon for young men considering the seminary, 15 to 20 guys from our little parish showed up. Sure, that's unusual. However, it can become the norm.
The Holy Spirit, with the help of John Paul, Benedict XVI, bishops, priests — and us — is issuing a call. Do you know of someone who needs help noticing it? Now would be a great time to point it out.
Bob Horning writes from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
- July 24-August 6, 2005