Redefining the 'vocation crisis' Print
Cutting Edge
Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009 -- 4:40 PM

Articles about the shortage of priests and religious men and women in the Church, particularly in Europe and North America, are common these days. Many international congregations like my own, the Sisters of the Holy Cross, are still getting new members but in lands other than the United States.

Guest Column

Whenever I read or hear about this subject, I often think about an article I read several years ago that has really stuck with me. Dolores Leckey, a laywoman who wrote a column for Catholic newspapers, entitled her article, "What Vocation Crisis?"

Her main point was to challenge us to wake up and see all the baptized people who also have vocations in the Church. By our Baptism each of us is called to share in the mission of Jesus to reveal God's unconditional love and to spread God's reign on earth. It is not only the prerogative of members of religious orders and clergy.

Limiting 'vocations'

Too often when we speak of vocations we limit that term to mean the call to ordained ministry and the consecrated life. Too often when we pray for vocations we ask God to inspire people to answer the call to be Sisters, Brothers, and priests. Once in a while we might include the call to lay ministry in the Church, but that is the exception.

Don't get me wrong: as a former vocation director for the Sisters of the Holy Cross I am all too acutely aware of the need for individuals who desire to give their entire lives to God and to the service of the Church. The Church benefits greatly by the witness of those who answer the call to ordained ministry and religious life. That need is great but it does not let the rest of God's people off the hook!

Baptized into the Body

When we were baptized, we were baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ and share in his priesthood. By Baptism we become a part of his body. We are not called just to go to church. We are called to be Church! All of us are called to holiness and service. Each of us has the right and the responsibility to serve in the name of Christ. It is not the task of a select few.

Every time we participate in Mass we are reminded of our Christian vocation when, at the final blessing, the celebrant commissions us to "go in peace to love and serve the Lord." Service is integral to the vocation of every Christian whether single, married, religious, or ordained.

I believe it is possible to believe all the Church's dogmas and follow all the rules and still not live our baptismal call. Religion without love and service is empty.

Perhaps it would be good to take time out and do some serious reflection on how we respond to our Christian vocation. How seriously do we take and live the Gospel message of Jesus? He was less concerned about rules and ritual than about reaching out to sinners and those in need. If each of us truly lived the vocation we received at Baptism, think of what a wonderful world this would be. The Church does need more priests and religious, but it also needs everyone else in the pews. That is the only way we are going to fulfill the mission of Christ.

Sr. Margie Lavonis, a freelance writer, is a Sister of the Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Ind.