Will They Ever Understand The Vocations Crisis?
With the arrival of the Holy Father on American shores, you all knew that these types of articles would make their way into the main-stream press. This one is from the NY Times. Now to be fair, the NY Times absolutely hates Christianity, and most certainly hates Catholicism. That is as true as the sun rising in the east every day. But it didn’t used to be that way. In 1943, the NY Times praised Pope Pius XII as the ONLY European leader to raise the alarm regarding the plight of Europe’s Jews, calling him “a voice crying in the wilderness.” Boy, have times changed!
I send this article out to many good friends, in order to once again highlight the continuing puzzlement of the higher-ups, who simply “don’t get it.” As I like to say, “Even a blind man can see the reasons why vocations are down the tubes!”
Let’s review: The hundreds of vocations that the Archdiocese of New York used to enjoy took place during a time when the Mass was celebrated in that awful language that no one could understand. Dare I say its name? Yes folks. It was in…..Latin. And the priest had the audacity to “turn his back” to the people. The altar was……hold on, this may be too much to bare….it was against the wall, and the tabernacle was actually…cover your eyes….actually on the altar. Now added to these outrages, only men could serve in the sanctuary, and only altar BOYS were allowed. Everyone had to receive at the….here we go….at the altar rail, on their knees, and on the tongue, given by the priest. Horrible!!!
Priests actually had the audacity to wear colorful hand embroidered chasubles, and some useless things called birettas, cassocks and maniples. Can you imagine that? Not one piece of beautiful, earth friendly polyester to be seen.
Priests gave something called a “sermon” where they actually taught the truths of the Faith, and had the very bad habit of discussing things like morals, sin and Hell. (I get the chills just thinking about such awful days as those!). What were they thinking? No talk of love, the Super Bowl, the latest cable show?
The Lord’s Prayer, during this terrible time in the Church, was actually said by the priest as the people kneeled (except if one were at something called a “High Mass”). Can you imagine? No hand holding allowed, and absolutely no kiss, handshake, or high-five of Peace. Unbelievable!!
Lastly, can you believe that only the organ was used (no guitars??), and a separate choir (kept out of sight in the choir loft) sang hymns in that old, dead language…Latin? No “On Eagle’s Wings???”
Women Religious wore full habits, instead of the “liberating” polyester pant suits of today. And children were actually forced to use the “Baltimore Catechism” with which they had to memorize the truths of the Faith. That is almost akin to child abuse!! Thank goodness we don’t live in such times when the Church was acting “Triumphant,” where she taught that she was the One, True Faith, that she alone was the means of salvation.
But here’s the strange part: In 1965, the year the Second Vatican Council ended, and all of the above still held sway, we had approximately 48,000 men in American seminaries. How can we now have less then 5,000 men in our seminaries, since we have changed every possible thing in the Mass, the way of teaching the Faith, and with all that wonderful “help from the laity?” Why aren’t the seminaries full? Why is the Archdiocese of New York, Los Angeles, Tucson, et al, struggling to attract men?
We do have a very real and massive problem. As one very old priest told me several months ago, “Maybe the Holy Spirit wants to decrease the number of priests in order to allow the growth of the laity?” My response was “WHAT?” Dear God, Almighty! That, ladies and gentlemen, is certifiably nuts!!! Let’s do some basic math: No priest equals no Eucharist. No Eucharist equals no Mass. No Mass…well, you do the math.
I will leave you with this thought: As almost all dioceses around the world struggle to attract men to the priesthood (that is, those that haven’t closed their doors), the newer orders of priests who ONLY celebrate the old Mass, the old ways, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest (ICKSP), Clear Creek Monastery, and numerous others, are OVERFLOWING with vocations of young men on fire for Holy Mother Church. None of these orders of traditional priests have a vocations crisis! In fact, most simply do not have enough bed space for all the applicants.
Now I ask all of you. Why is that? Something to contemplate the next time you are asked to “pray for vocations.”
___________________________________________The New York Times
April 15, 2008
Facing Decline, an Effort to Market the Priesthood
By DAVID GONZALEZ
The banners hanging in the main corridor (that's their first problem!) of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers declare, “Through Faith We Grow.” The class portraits that line that very same corridor tell the opposite tale. Half a century after the halcyon days when several hundred men at a time studied to be ordained as priests for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, only 22 are enrolled.
Even more alarming to Catholics, although six men expect to be ordained in May, none are entering the first-year theology program. While seminary officials attribute the sudden drop to extra preparatory course requirements that went into effect this year, it is nonetheless a jarring development.
“You do what you can, as well as you can, for as long as you can, and hope it works,” said Bishop Gerald Walsh, the seminary’s rector. “I’d be optimistic if we had enough clergy present for young people and willing to talk to them.”
He will have enough — and then some — on Saturday, when Pope Benedict XVI
visits the seminary for a prayer service and youth rally. The pope’s mere presence will be a jolt of encouragement to the seminarians. It will also offer them and other priests and nuns the chance to mingle with 20,000 young people and plant a seed for vocations.
There will be flashy videos, with quick cuts, stirring sound tracks and fearless priests on New York streets. Goody bags will include glossy post cards of the pontiff emblazoned with the word “Willkommen!” — and the Web address nypriest.com
, the seminary’s recruiting site. In coming weeks, the archdiocese will send its schools posters that announce, “The World Needs Heroes,” including one of black-suited priests crossing an intersection — looking like “Going My Way” meets “Reservoir Dogs.”
Officials of the archdiocese do not apologize for embracing Madison Avenue marketing to counter a sharp decline in vocations.
An increasingly secular and materialistic culture, reluctance among the young to accept lifelong celibacy, and anger over the church’s handling of sexual abuse scandals have all contributed to the precipitous drop, the officials say.
Vocational directors recognize that the public’s confidence has been shaken by the scandals. They have chosen, however, to focus their marketing campaign on an upbeat message.
The Rev. Luke Sweeney, director of vocations for the archdiocese — which covers the Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island and seven counties west and north of the city — says the church must make its case if it hopes to reinvigorate a priesthood that is increasingly elderly. “How do we get the ‘cool’ factor back into the priesthood?” Father Sweeney said. “If we don’t sell the priesthood, we can’t legitimately ask a young man to consider the priesthood as a vocation.”
What the seminary lacks in numbers, it may make up for in intensity and eagerness. The seminarians speak of finding a joy and purpose that eluded them in secular careers.
“We live in a very confusing world, a world where there is a lot of evil in it, and good men need to step forward,” said Brian Graebe, a former high school teacher who is finishing his first year. “You can stick your head in the sand, or you can do something to change it. What more heroic life is there than to touch these eternal mysteries?”
St. Joseph’s Seminary — informally known as Dunwoodie, after its neighborhood — is hardly alone in its diminished fortunes. Nationally, the enrollment of seminarians in four-year theology programs has been flat for the last decade, currently numbering 3,286, said Sister Katarina Schuth, a professor at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, part of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. More than a quarter of those seminarians, she said, were foreign born.
“It’s a tough time for the church,” Sister Schuth said. “Dunwoodie has lost proportionately more than most. It really is a puzzle, given the huge population of New York and the boroughs.”
When St. Joseph’s opened in the late 1800s, its stone castle, topped by a gleaming cupola and perched majestically atop a hill, was described by Bishop Bernard McQuaid of Rochester as “the grandest seminary building in Christendom.” It was also, according to the Rev. Thomas J. Shelley, a Fordham University
professor, one of the most progressive seminaries of its age, with an intellectual tradition to rival the best Catholic universities, until a Vatican
crackdown on modernist thought a century ago led to a more orthodox approach.
Still, priests who were seminarians during the 1940s and ’50s recall a tranquil place whose daily rhythms were marked by the clanging of the bell for classes, meals and Mass. Many came from immigrant, working-class homes where the religious life was seen as a step up.
The Rev. Gerard J. DiSenso, who grew up poor in the Bronx, said the first time he had a room all to himself was when he entered the seminary in 1947.
That he was surrounded daily by more than 200 seminarians was encouraging and humbling.
“You sensed that you were not absolutely needed,” said Father DiSenso, who is now retired. “There were enough candidates that the seminary could afford to discharge people.”
He still goes to the seminary weekly to use its library, though he has little contact with the few men who are now there. “It’s like a shell of itself,” he lamented. “It’s completely different.”
Yet some changes have been for the better, he and other priests of his generation say. Unlike past years, when seminarians hardly left the grounds, today’s students come and go. They are assigned to work in parishes each summer to learn the demands they will encounter upon ordination.
And while enrollment is down, it better reflects the city’s changing demographics, in that there are more Hispanic candidates, both at the seminary and in a program aimed at cultivating high school students for the priesthood. In addition to the 22 seminarians to be ordained for the archdiocese, 14 candidates were sent to Dunwoodie by religious orders.
The biggest change, however, is in the age and backgrounds of seminarians. Decades ago, young men entered the seminary in their teens. Today, many have college degrees and have worked in business, science or even the military — experiences that can give them an added measure of empathy for their congregants.
“They have more experience in the world, more than we had,” Bishop Walsh, the rector, said. “They’re probably a little more secure in their choice.” Among the current seminarians are former teachers, engineers, executives and even a funeral director.
At 39, Ronald Perez is the oldest candidate for ordination next month. A former paralegal at a Midtown law firm, he moved to New York from Los Angeles 10 years ago to change his life. By the time he decided to become a priest, he had worked at a failed manufacturing company and a dot-com that missed the boom.
His decision to become a priest was gradual, he said, coming after years of involvement in activities at his home parish, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He credited the talks he had with visiting seminarians for nudging him closer to the religious life. Like many other contemporary candidates for the seminary, he started studying philosophy with other prospective priests.
“The door was open, so if it was for you, go on, but if not, leave, no questions asked,” he said. “That first year was crucial. It gave me a chance to look back at my life and the world around me. Nothing I could have done as an engineer or a paralegal would give me contentment and happiness. Something was missing. I realized what it was: becoming a priest.”
The other great shift in recent decades has been a growing conservatism among seminarians, marked by an emphasis on ritual and on being set apart from the laity. In interviews, some older priests said their ministry was rooted in a deep understanding of the social and material needs of their congregants. Younger priests and seminarians emphasized the sacramental aspects of their vocation.
“Something that attracted me was the priest’s proximity to Christ at the Mass,” said Steven Markantonis, a second-year student. “He is using the same words Jesus used 2,000 years ago, when the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.”
He said that after ordination, he expected to be “nothing more” than a parish priest tending to his congregation’s spiritual life.
“Regarding their social needs, it is a fine line,” he said. “You have to know where your job ends and another person’s job begins.”
Dean R. Hoge, a sociologist at Catholic University who has studied recently ordained priests, said there were indications that they were less collaborative with the laity. “They are more concerned about their status of being set apart,” Dr. Hoge said. “The younger ones are more concerned about moral teaching. The old guys hate to even talk about that.”
He cautioned that the American laity, now the most educated in history, want to have a bigger say in parish decisions.
Bishop Walsh, who once served as a pastor in Washington Heights, home to many struggling immigrants, said the church had to be understanding of its members and their burdens.
“Many people in the parishes I was in had jobs on Sunday that they had to do to put food on the table,” he said. “That is a religious value, too, raising a family. We can’t say, if you do not go to church 52 Sundays a year, you are failing as a Catholic.”
His seminarians, he said, should be gentle to the people in the pews. “People will never forget the priest who is nasty to them,” he said. “They could care less about who knows theology.”
However conservative the younger generation of clergy may be, Bishop Walsh said, it is increasingly committed to working with young people. For winning new recruits to the priesthood, no brochure or video can compete with the friendship and example of a parish priest.
Anthony Mizzi-Gili Jr. still remembers the priests of his childhood, men who graduated from Dunwoodie and earned his trust and admiration. After years of indecision, he ultimately followed in their footsteps and is now a third-year seminarian.
During midday Mass last week, he played the organ with gusto, as the chapel reverberated with “Sing With All the Saints in Glory.”
Afterward, he took lunch in the refectory, which was built to hold hundreds but now could fit the entire student body at a few tables. Mr. Mizzi-Gili looked around but refused to sound discouraged. “It shows vocations are still there,” he said. “Regardless of the numbers, we’re still there.”