The following guest post was written by Fr. Donald L. Kloster, a priest of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut who has served (for over 6 years) as the pastor of 36,000 faithful in the poorer parish of Maria Inmaculada Eucarisitica in the Archdiocese of Guayaquil, Ecuador.
Father Kloster graduated from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary Philadelphia, PA in 1995, having completed his Master’s Thesis in Moral Theology. He is a native of Texas and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1989. In addition, Fr. Kloster spent two years as a student (and then novice) at the 7th century est. Benedictine Abbey of Disentis, Switzerland.
As someone who has lived on 3 continents and in 11 U.S. dioceses during my adult life, I have seen a lot where vocations are concerned. The Liturgy Guy said it well recently when he noted that the answer to increased vocations isn’t beyond our capability. Unfortunately, our chanceries have often spent too much time and money searching for vocations in all the wrong places.
Increasing vocations is not a matter of more conferences, retreats, publications, advertising, and slide shows. These things have minimal effects. It is as if hand wringing will do the Church any good at all. It is as if the powers that be really aren’t interested in true solutions.
From my observation deck, there seems to be a lot of a priori suppositions that inhibit a true rise in vocations. There is a communal reluctance to admit wherein the vocations successes are gaining traction. Traditional dioceses and Traditional Orders are producing the lion’s share of vocations.
Coca Cola famously introduced New Coke in 1985. It lasted just 77 days. Only 13% of Coke drinkers even liked it. Did that company double down on the New Coke promotional ads? They had, after all, spent millions of dollars to introduce the product. No, they did an about face and reintroduced Coca-Cola Classic! By comparison, our Bishops have done the exact opposite when it comes to vocations. They are continuing in methods that are proven failures.
I humbly submit that there is a spiritual connection between the height of vocations in 1965 and our vocations dearth that has continued for 52 years now.
Just exactly what have we been doing wrong? I’m afraid that a great many of our modern Prelates do not want to hear the real answer because it does not fit in with their narrative; their stubbornly clung to ideology.
First, we need an exclusively masculine sanctuary. Vatican II never envisioned an army of Extraordinary Ministers. It never envisioned altar girls. It never envisioned the (almost) exclusive reading of the Old Testament and Epistles at Mass by women.
There is only one diocese in all of the United States that is obedient to even the most recent 2011 General Instruction of the Roman Missal. The GIRM calls for instituted acolytes and lectors. It is a gross abuse that in the more Solemn Masses at almost any Cathedral in the nation, there are instituted seminarian lectors that are many times prohibited from fulfilling their installed liturgical privilege.
We have largely evicted men from the sanctuary (as sextons and ushers too) at the peril of vocations. Men will almost always take a back seat if they perceive it is a duty reserved to women.
Second, we need a more visibly identifiable clergy. The most proper dress of a priest is the cassock. Next comes the clerical suit. A priest should normally always wear his jacket or at least have it with him. In former days, there was also a regulation to carry one’s biretta or hat. I cannot tell you how many times I have been stopped for a question, blessing, or confession. If I am not visibly identified, I am invisible as an available priest. If I were to walk around in street clothes regularly, I communicate to others with my dress a certain lack of importance invested in my vocation. The police wear their uniforms for a reason. We are their spiritual equivalent, except that we are never “off duty.”
Third and most importantly, we need a communal obligatory penance to help promote vocations. Perhaps it means a return to abstinence on Fridays. Perhaps every Catholic under pain of venial sin should visit a monstrance or a tabernacle for 10 minutes weekly. Perhaps a monthly day of fasting under the usual conditions like Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Lincoln, Nebraska and Guadalajara, Mexico are perhaps the best two Dioceses in the Americas at promoting vocations. Why aren’t all of the other dioceses copying them? My frustration is that it seems collectively as a Church we are content to have a continually declining priest to faithful ratio.
As in most situations in life, if something isn’t working you abandon it. It’s only logical. Tradition is not a bad word. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once famously refused to send her nuns to Albania without priests. “Without priests we do not have the Mass.”
Vocations are not just a pious part of a “wish list.” They are the basic need of our survival as a Church. The sooner vocations begin to (significantly) increase again, the sooner we will witness a spiritually healthier Catholic Church again.
Photo credit: John Cosmas