Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vocations, Discernment And Religious Education

This wonderful poster from the Diocese of Raleigh, NC (HT - WTDPRS) speaks to me of a local church actively committed to the fostering of vocations from the earliest possible age.
According to the 'Western Catholic Calendar' for 2008, at the time it went to print the Archdiocese of Glasgow (99 parishes) had 10 students in major seminaries, and two men participated in the relevant Seminary Applicants Year. The Diocese of Motherwell (73 parishes) had five students in major seminaries, and no participants in the Seminary Applicants Year. The Diocese of Paisley (33 parishes) had two students in major seminaries, and no participants in the Seminary Applicants Year.
These are gruesome numbers, which leave a lot of what might be unpleasant questions for those in charge of the promotion of vocations. To say 'vocations are down everywhere' is just not good enough - do the faithful not deserve to have priests? Was it thought that vocations would spring unbidden on the vine?
The times we live in, and the spirit of the age, don't really matter. What should be more important than anything else to the promotion of vocations is the desire of the faithful to have priests. That was you-know-who's explanation for why Ireland and Holland once produced so many vocations - the Irish and Dutch people wanted them. Has this desire for vocations been fostered and shepherded by the priests that the people have already? Have the clergy been activists for vocations? Have prayers been said for vocations from the altar every week? Have the clergy made themselves a visible presence in the faithful's homes? Have they left copious amounts of vocations literature in their churches, and encouraged boys and young men to read it and discuss it with them afterwards? Have they been in the schools, telling boys and young men of what should be the joyous, rewarding nature of the religious life?
Have they been doing these things?
A century ago, we in the West of Scotland had priests and no schools. In a few decades, we may have schools and no priests. This is an absolute inversion of what Catholic education was meant to be about. We have made a false god of the Catholic school, and now we are paying the price. It may have been thought that they would be an engine for the production of vocations - if that was the case, the engine's well and truly broken down, to the extent that the numbers quoted above show that the Catholic school as we know it is probably no longer fit for purpose. Perhaps the fault lies with what they have been teaching. Let me give you an example.
I am a cradle Catholic, nearly 40 years old. I received all of my primary and secondary education in Catholic schools, my secondary education in a Jesuit high school at a time when there still enough Jesuits about to have some of them on staff (other peoples' recollections might be different, but to me it seemed that the primary emphases of the education I received at that high school were the necessity of playing rugby and doing well in life, becoming a professional, as opposed to my eternal salvation). It is only in recent weeks that I have even heard of the concept of 'discernment', and its role in the fostering of vocations.
I cannot recall ever hearing this expression before, nor can I recall ever having what it meant explained to me. Discernment is a practical skill which should be taught in every Catholic school. Doing so might produce more vocations, and, who knows, more well-instructed, better-adjusted Catholics.
This is an entirely personal view, and welcome comment, but discernment is a skill which the religious seem to have kept to and for themselves. If that was the case, then it was wrong, a mistake, and one that only will the clergy can rectify. If discernment had been taught in Catholic schools, would the Roman Catholic proportion of Scotland's prison population continue to be so high? I doubt it.

1 Comments:

Blogger Paulinus said...

Martin you might want to read The Two Catholic Churches: A Study in Oppression by Antony Archer - out of print but there are two copies on Amazon at the moment.

It formed Archer's MA dissertation in sociology, the thrust of which was (IIRC) that sometime in the early-med 20th century the Catholic Church in England started to make its first aim the creation of a Catholic middle class rather than the fostering of vocations or evangelising the poor.

Sad to say Archer is no longer a Dominican or a Catholic priest.

02 September, 2008 00:37  

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