Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28-29
1 John 3:1-2
In 1965 the United States Catholic population was around 45.6 Million people.
In 2011 the United States Catholic population was around 65.4 Million people.
In 1965 the United States was home to over 179,000 religious sisters and 12,000 religious brothers.
In 2011 the United States was home to just 55,000 religious sisters and 4,000 religious brothers.
In 1965 in the United States, 58,000 priests ministered at 17,000 parishes.
In 2011 in the United States, 39,000 priests ministered at 17,000 parishes.
While our Catholic population has increased by 20 million souls, the number of men and women who are ministering to them as priests and religious has drastically decreased. This is because the past 50 years have been pretty turbulent ones. After Vatican II there were many people – bishops, priests and laity – who felt that things needed to be entirely changed. The Church had to catch up to the modern world and ‘get with the times’. For many, this meant tossing out our centuries-old traditions, rejecting the teaching of the Church, and starting something wholly new. After 50 years we can see that this was not truly what best for the Church. Mass attendance among the laity has dropped from around 85% in 1965 to only 22% today. This is but one statistic of many that shows us that quite often it was not the solid food of the Gospel and teachings of the Church that was given, but instead a watered-down version that leaves one desiring something more. So they leave in search of it elsewhere. They go to one of these new protestant communities because it’s more exciting. Or, even worse, they simply stay home.
In the midst of these turbulent times in the Church and the world, we are desperately in need of men and women who are willing and able to step up to the task of leading souls toward Heaven in a bold way. We need priests who know that they are not just one of the guys but are consecrated to be Jesus Christ in the midst of the world. We need religious sisters who are not fighting to build something new in the world but rather thrive on being a spouse and bride of Jesus Christ. We need religious brothers who are willing to step out there and be the love of Jesus Christ for the Church. We need men and women who are willing to lay down their lives for a glorious calling in this life and an even greater Heavenly reward.
As I was reflecting on what to preach this weekend, I kept thinking of how priests have specifically impacted my own life. When I was battling depression and suicidal thoughts as a teen, it was to the priest who was there to give me hope. When I was wandering without faith or belief in God, it was a priest that helped me to find the Lord. When I was drowning in sin as a college student, it was a priest who brought me to life through confession. When I was struggling with my own vocation, it was a priest who welcomed me and brought about the gift of clarity to see my calling. These are just a few of the many experiences that I’ve had with priests in our own diocese, a handful of men. Unfortunately, I never saw many religious brothers or sisters, so I couldn’t have those experiences with them that others might have had. But the reality is that God works through these men and women to bring salvation to individuals and to the whole world. That is our entire mission.
As I’ve said before – the primary goal of every person is to glorify God. We do so by becoming saints in Heaven. We become saints in Heaven by being holy on Earth. And the path to holiness that I have necessarily involves me doing everything in my power to ensure that each of you hears the Gospel of Jesus Christ and grows in your relationship with that same Christ. If you don’t come to know Jesus more deeply, it’s a mark against me. If you don’t know God’s love more deeply, it’s a mark against me. If your life is not transformed at least in a small way, it’s a mark against me. My entire life is focused on saving your souls. We need more men and women who have that same desire, that same longing to lay down their lives for the sheep that they might enter the gates of Heaven.
Recently, St. George parish has produced a number of vocations. Baton Rouge seminarians Josh Johnson and Brad Doyle, as well as Maronite-Rite seminarian Alex Harb all call St. George home. Also from our parish is Sr. Mary Martha Becnel, who is one of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. In our youth group we have two young men who are applying to enter seminary this year, one young lady who will be entering a convent this summer, and others who are discerning a vocation to priesthood or religious life. Certainly we can see the Spirit moving here in our midst, but the reality is that we must continue to pray and support vocations.
If you think someone might make a good priest or religious, let them know. Whether they’re 5 years old or 45 years old; let them know. Parents, if your child expresses a desire to pursue one of these vocations or you think they might make a good priest or religious, support them and encourage them. If someone is here today who is thinking about a vocation currently and has any unrest in your heart, be not afraid, for it is the Good Shepherd who calls you.
We must be pro-active in increasing vocations. We must talk about them and talk to others about them. But most of all we need to pray. Pray for priests by name and pray that our hearts might become like that of Christ the Good Shepherd. Pray for religious sisters by name and pray that they might be joyful spouses of Christ Jesus. Pray for religious brothers by name and pray that they might be able to witness to the world the transforming love of the God. Pray for us. Pray for our perseverance in our vocation. Pray that we might remain faithful to our promises to the Lord. Pray that we might be people of holiness. Pray that we remain open to the Holy Spirit. And pray that many many more might see our joyful example and come to follow in our footsteps to continue to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our world which so greatly longs to hear it.
Statistics from Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.
Statistics from Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.