Q: How concerned should we be about a priest shortage? And how can I support vocations?
A: This is a great question to pray about and act on during the month of June, since this is when new priests are typically ordained for the Archdiocese of Seattle. With these ordinations, our thoughts naturally turn to the gift of religious vocations and how essential they are to the life and ministry of the church.
Let me begin with a few statistics. In 1970, there were 59,192 priests in the United States. By contrast, in 2018, there were just 36,580 priests — a decline of 38%, or 22,612 priests. (The decline in the number of religious sisters has been even more dramatic — 73%.)
During the same time, the Catholic population grew significantly, from 47.9 million in 1970 to 68.7 million in 2018 — a 43% increase. (These numbers are all from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.) Thankfully, we have seen an increase in lay ministry leadership and permanent deacons during the past five decades.
All this being said, it should be noted that that the United States still has a significantly better ratio of priests to parishioners than many places in the world where one priest must serve the needs of tens of thousands of parishioners.
When faced with great need, our first response should always be to pray as Jesus instructed us: “Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Luke 10:2). Prayer reminds us that we rely above all on the grace of God to sustain and bless the church with faithful priests. Our prayer is also for those God calls, that they will respond to the Lord’s invitation with generosity, freedom and integrity.
God always provides what we need, and the Lord knows better than we do what will make us truly happy and give meaning to our lives. When we are confident in God’s holy and perfect will, we can trust that God will care for us when we respond to his grace and seek to do his will.
I believe God is calling young men of our day to serve him as priests in the Catholic Church, because God desires the salvation of the world and will give us the sacramental ministers we need to accomplish that mission. Rather than a “vocation crisis,” I believe we are experiencing a “response crisis” because of those who are hesitant to say “yes” to God’s invitation to serve him as a priest.
You can help overcome this crisis through your prayer, your active encouragement of those you believe God may be calling to the priesthood, and your own committed faithful service to the mission
of Gospel as a friend of Jesus.
Jesus told us that the word of God can easily be prevented from taking root and bearing fruit by temporal concerns, hardened hearts or shallow faith (see Luke 8:5-15). As members of the body of Christ, it is our responsibility to till the soil of each person’s heart so that they desire, welcome and respond to the word of God spoken to them.
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - June 2020