Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Priest Shortage Hits Home

Any Catholic who practices and cares about the future of the faith knows the church today is afflicted with "crisis in vocations"—or to put it more bluntly, a critical shortage of priests and religious. Today that shortage came to my parish. For the first time since I have been a member of my present parish, we were forced to have a Sunday communion service rather than a proper Mass because there was no priest available. Our parish priest has been away for several weeks dealing with a family emergency and, God willing, is scheduled to return next weekend. For the last three weeks, we have had a visiting priest fill in for him, but this weekend that priest was not available.

I was at home recovering from an illness, so I was not at the service today, but it distresses me that we were forced to this pass because of the shortage of priests. I live in rural, eastern South Carolina, an area where Catholics are few and far between, and today was the first time in my memory that my parish has ever been without a priest for Sunday Mass. I can only imagine what the situation is like in areas where the priest shortage is even more severe. On a recent episode of his "Daily Breakfast" podcast, Father Roderick Vonhögen, a priest of the Archdiocese of Utrecht in the Netherlands, estimated that by the year 2015, his diocese would have only 50 active priests available to serve a population of over 1 million Catholics. As it is now, he and each of his fellow priests are responsible for 7-10 parish churches that have been grouped into "mega-parishes" simply because there are no priests available to serve the smaller parish churches.

All of this goes to show how entirely appropriate it is that Pope Benedict has declared a Year of the Priest, to encourage reflection on the importance of priests in Catholic life, to encourage priestly vocations, and to encourage those already serving as priests to keep up their good work and to strive even harder for holiness of life and better service to God and his people.

If you're blessed enough to live in a parish with a resident priest, thank God for it— and thank the priest for his service to you. Pray for him, and pray that God will raise up good and godly men to succeed that priest when the time comes. If you know any unmarried, faithful Catholic men, encourage them to consider the priesthood as a vocation. I seriously considered the priesthood when I was younger, but I lacked the courage to follow through—now I think I would lack the physical health and stamina. I can still pray, however. Pray for your priests! Pray for more priests!

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