Monday, 14 October 2013


The people with whom I have no patience are those who think clergy are abnormal because they are somehow or other superhuman beings with special access to God, possessing special wisdom and power and deserving special treatment. Among those who think this way are too many clergy.

Shocking revelation: priests are normal people

Now, can you please let them down off their pedestal?
  • Fr William Grimm, Tokyo, Japan - October 14, 2013
When I was in high school, I had an after-school and summer job delivering medical supplies to infirmaries and clinics in department stores, ships and office buildings in New York City.
Over time, I got to know many of the receptionists at those places. Lugging boxes around 'the concrete jungle' as I went from place to place in New York’s hot, humid summer made the air conditioned reception areas of office buildings attractive places for a short break.
One summer day, a receptionist at the headquarters of an insurance company asked what my plans for the future were. I told her that I was entering a seminary at the end of the summer holiday.
With a shocked expression on her face, she said, “but you’re normal! Why would you do something like that?”
There are people who think there is something abnormal about priests. Some think we are ignorant, crazy and possibly dangerous fanatics. The sexual abuse of children by bishops and priests and its cover-up have given them good reasons to think that way. Usually, they have never actually met and talked with any of us. So long as those people are not aggressively ill-mannered, I generally find their attitude no more than mildly annoying, sometimes embarrassing and often even amusing. A bit of conversation, perhaps over a drink, is enough to get them to admit that there might be at least one exception to their rule.
The people with whom I have no patience are those who think clergy are abnormal because they aresomehow or other superhuman beings with special access to God, possessing special wisdom and power and deserving special treatment. Among those who think this way are too many clergy.
I once saw a book for seminarians that warned against frequent contact with lay folk lest they realize that “priest eggs” (as they are sometimes called in Japan), are normal human beings.Clergy often receive special treatment, more often than not the sort of treatment one might give an imbecile demigod who is semi-divine, but incapable of handling the normal demands of life — like picking up a restaurant check.
Too many of the objects of special treatment rather like life on a pedestal. Some expect such treatment. There are many who shape their lives around being ever ready to receive it. I’ve even met a few sorry cases who became priests in order to have a place upon the pedestal.
There are others (the majority, I hope, but sometimes I wonder) who try to climb down from the pedestal upon which others put them. But people try to shove them back. Why is that? Why do so many people want their clergy to be specially treated and insulated from life? Is it a bribe?
If so, what do people gain by their deference, their special treatment toward religious leaders? In bribing the preachers, do they unconsciously hope to bribe God? Are they looking for some sort of payback from God? Does treating clergy as children allow people to not take them seriously? Perhaps they are hoping that by putting preachers outside the responsibilities of everyday life, they can keep them from applying the Word of God to those situations of everyday life where they would rather not have to hear what God expects of us.
Does it matter? Yes, it does, because in addition to the sacraments, clergy do have something important to offer the Church in its mission to the world: guidance, education, example. Giving example is not unique to them, of course — every Christian is an example of how to live as a disciple of Christ — but by being publicly recognized representatives of the community, the clergy are in a position to attract attention from those who want or need to see the servant Church in action. But, how can someone who acts or is treated as nobility show what it is to be a servant? How can someone treated as an incompetent instruct?
So, what shall we do? We can probably do little about clerical careerists who likely have purple piping on their bathrobes and gold cufflinks on their pajamas. Settling for the material and emotional “perks” of ministry and missing out on the spiritual excitement and rewards of real service is their self-inflicted punishment.
We can, however, see what we do to perpetuate the semi-deification of the clergy. For starters, imagine asking a bishop, priest or deacon to help wash the dishes. If the thought startles you, ask why it does and if it should.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, recently told that he was surprised that the media is making a fuss about an interview with Pope Francis “that looks very normal”. The cardinal may have missed the point that normalcy from a pope (as from Cardinal Tagle, himself reportedly a refreshingly normal man) is newsworthy. We have a pope who probably need not be asked to help with the dishes because he would volunteer to do them.
The unseemly spectacle of hypocritical bishops and priests around the world falling over themselves to praise the new pope’s normalcy when only months ago they sang equally loud paeans to amonarchical papacy and hierarchy is actually a cause for some hope. Whether it be pandering or real conversion, we may be able to expect to see clergy in the kitchen who never before knew where it was. They may find that they like having soapy hands.
And then they will be better able to lead us into the dirty places of our world to bring the cleansing Word. ###

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Frequently Asked Questions on Vocations

Frequently Asked Questions on Vocations

Why did the NRVC commission this study on religious vocations?
Prior to this landmark study, the only information we had on religious vocations in the United States was anecdotal. The purpose of this study is to identify and understand who is entering religious life today and to find out which religious institutes are receiving and retaining new members. From this information, our goal is to identify best practices in vocation promotion and religious formation. It is hoped this important data will inform religious institutes as they develop their vocation plans in the future, and bring a greater awareness of vocations to the wider church.

Does this study have anything to do with the Vatican’s apostolic visitation of women religious or the doctrinal assessment of LCWR?
This study is totally independent of these investigations. Funding for our study was obtained in December 2007, and the first phase of our research was well underway prior to the announcement of the apostolic visitation.

Why was there such a surge in religious vocations in the last century?
If you consider the continuum of religious life, the extraordinary number of men and women who entered religious life during the last century was an anomaly.  Historically, religious sisters, brothers, and priests have always been a small number of the Catholic population.  Some contributing factors to this surge in larger numbers were the limited opportunities for church ministry prior to Vatican II, a large influx of Catholic immigrants entering the U.S., the Catholic Church was growing in prominence and respect, and the similarity in values of the Catholic Church with U.S. societal values.

What is a vocation?
Many people use the word vocation (from the Latin vocare, meaning “to call”) in reference to the call to be a priest, sister, or brother. However, the Catholic understanding of vocation is much broader: every baptized person has a vocation—a call—to love and serve God. How you choose to live out that vocation is what each person must discern. Some feel called to live as single or married laypeople; others choose consecrated life and join a secular institute or religious community (as sisters, priests, or brothers); still others choose ordination as deacons or diocesan priests.

What is a sister or nun?
A sister or nun is a woman who belongs to a religious order, or community. Many people use the word nun interchangeably with sister, but technically nuns are those who live a cloistered (or enclosed) monastic life; whereas sisters serve in an active ministry. After a period of preparation (called formation) sisters and nuns take lifelong vows. Usually they take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; that is, they promise to live simply, to live celibately, and to follow the will of God through their community.

What is a brother?
A brother belongs to a religious community of men. A brother takes religious vows, usually poverty, chastity, and obedience.  A brother’s life revolves around prayer, communal living in a religious community or monastery, and a ministry within the Church and society.  A brother is not ordained to the priesthood, and thus does not perform the sacramental duties of a priest. Some men’s communities include both brothers and priests, and both have equal respect and status in the community.

What is a monk?
A monk is the male member of a monastic or contemplative order.  Some monks make solemn vows. Monasticism is a particular form of religious life built around a rule, such as the Rule of Benedict, and the Divine Office, a set of prayers and psalms chanted or sung at various points in the day. Women who choose monastic life are called sisters or nuns.

What is a friar?
A friar is a male member of a mendicant order, such as the Dominicans or Franciscans, although the term is sometimes extended to others in the monastic tradition.

What is the difference between a diocesan priest and a priest from a religious order?
All priests are ordained to the priesthood through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. However, a man may choose to be a diocesan priest (sometimes called a secular priest) or a religious priest (or order priest).

If he chooses to be a diocesan priest, then he enters the diocesan seminary system, and once ordained typically serves within his own diocese (a geographic territory designated by the Catholic Church). He is appointed to his ministry—most often parish work—by the bishop of that diocese. A diocesan priest is accountable to his bishop and the people he serves.

If a man chooses religious priesthood, he joins a men’s religious community. While he may perform parish ministry, he generally serves in other ways, typically doing work related to the mission and ministries of his religious congregation. A religious priest is accountable to his major superior and the other men in his community for his religious life and his local bishop and the people he serves for his priestly duties.

Why does there seem to be fewer religious communities?
Religious communities have always had an ebb and flow since the days of the early church. The needs of the time and the movement of the Holy Spirit are the impetus for new communities to form and others to fade away. Today in the U.S., while many religious communities are merging or consolidating, others are being founded or are attracting new members. In addition, there is a rising interest in religious life among North American Catholics, as noted in recent VISION Vocation Guide surveys in 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Are young people still choosing to become priests, sisters, and brothers?
Yes, but in fewer numbers.  Historically, religious have always been fewer in number.  Following an unusual surge in the mid-20th century, the number of men and women religious today more closely reflects a number consistent with the beginning of the last century.  According to the 2009 NRVC/CARA study, 71 percent of those who have entered religious life and are currently in initial formation are under 40. And of the more than 7,000 people who have filled out the NRVC-sponsored profiles this year 67 percent are under 40.

Are young adults pressured to join a religious order if they request information?
Trained vocation ministers adhere to a code of ethics that specifically encourages them to allow inquirers a sense of true freedom to choose or not choose religious life or priesthood without any pressure or expectation from others. In fact, extreme pressure to enter religious life is a canonical impediment to admission to vows.  Online websites, discussion boards, and email exchanges allow inquirers to seek information anonymously until they feel prepared to make more personal contact.

Most vocation directors acknowledge that their role is to accompany those in discernment, not to recruit them. In addition vocation directors have a duty to their communities and the church to properly assess and offer honest feedback about a candidate's fitness for religious life.

What is a vocation director?
A vocation director is designated by a religious institute to promote vowed membership, to help others discern their vocation, and to oversee the application process of new members entering the community as a postulant.  They assist those who are considering the possibility of religious life by providing support, discernment counseling, and information. The Vocation director for a religious congregation answers to the elected superiors of their congregation. The National Religious Vocation Conference is the professional organization for vocation directors of religious communities.

Vocation Directors who work on behalf of a diocese answer to the bishop. They have  their own professional organization, the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors.)

What is the process to enter religious life?
Typically someone interested in religious life goes through a discernment process where they prayerfully consider the call to religious life, explore vocation options, contact religious communities, and eventually begin a more formal process of discernment with a particular religious institute.

Once a candidate chooses to apply to a community and is accepted, he or she typically begins a formation process starting with postulancy or candidacy, in which the person is introduced to the communal life, ministries, and mission of the community. Following postulancy comes the novitiate, where a person is formally admitted to a religious institute. The novitiate is an extended time of prayer, study and spirituality, which usually lasts for at least one year. After the novitiate, the novice is admitted to temporary vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  This period of temporary commitment allows for further discernment before he or she makes perpetual profession of vows within a given religious institute.  

How many religious institutes are there in the U.S., and how many priests, sisters, brothers?
There are approximately 900 separate religious institutes in the United States.
Total priests in 2008: 40,580
Diocesan priests: 27,614
Religious priests: 12,966
Permanent deacons in 2008: 15,893
Religious brothers in 2008: 5,001
Religious sisters in 2008: 61,855
These and additional statistics are found on the CARA website.

How do religious communities screen candidates?
Religious institutes usually require an extensive process of screening candidates to religious life, which usually includes extensive interviews, background checks, and medical and psychological testing. Candidates must demonstrate a lived commitment to the Catholic faith and an appropriate level of maturity and mental and physical health that the rigors of religious life require. Candidates who do not meet specific standards set by both Church law and the individual religious institute are not admitted to religious life.

Can married people enter religious? Widowed and divorced?
Religious life in the Roman Catholic Church is reserved for celibates only. Some religious institutes have accepted widowed and divorced people who have had their marriages properly annulled by the Church.

What are the vows of religious life?
The main vows for men and women in religious life are chastity, poverty, and obedience. Individual institutes may require additional vows.

How do priests, nuns, and brothers spend their days?
Men and women religious have an obligation of personal and communal prayer, including daily Mass. They live in community, usually in one house. Apostolic communities, including missionaries, are engaged in ministries, such as healthcare, education, and social service. Contemplative communities are committed to daily prayer and some form of manual labor.

What is the National Religious Vocation Conference?
The National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) was founded in 1988 as a professional organization of men and women committed to vocation awareness, invitation, and discernment to consecrated life as brothers, sisters, and priests. The NRVC has an annual membership of over 1,300 women and men, most of whom are vocation ministers for religious congregations. The organization is divided into 14 regions plus international members. The NRVC serves its members by providing education, resources, and services for professional growth.

What is VISION Vocation Guide?
VISION Vocation guide is a print, online, and digital resource for those interested in entering religious life. Published by TrueQuest Communications on behalf of the National Religious Vocation Conference, VISION is distributed throughout the U.S. and Canada in print and around the world in its digital format. VISION articles and features are also available in Spanish and French online. The magazine is in its 22 year of publication. In 2006, VISION launched its popular service which assists those discerning a religious vocation to narrow their search for the right community. An annual Survey on Vocations helps track current trends.


   Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J.
   SRV Chaplain

   A religious vocation is a special grace that God
gives to certain persons, calling them to a life of
the evangelical counsels.

   There is more than passing value in stressing
the fact that a religious vocation is a grace. It
is, therefore, a gift and an opportunity that must
be freely responded to if the grace is not to remain
sterile and ineffective. We used to speak, and
perhaps still do, of promoting religious vocations.
 Actually, we cannot promote vocations. 
Either God gives them or they don't exist. 
We can only discoverwhat God has given 
and then foster a vocation that
is presumably there.

   But how do you discover a true vocation? The
expression "true vocation" is not casual. It is
critically important in an age when so many
once-promising vocations seem to have been lost.

   What are some typical features of a true
vocation to the religious life? I would emphasize
especially three:

   (1) a strong faith in the Catholic Church and
   her teaching, shown by a firm loyalty to the
   Vicar of Christ;

   (2) a love of prayer, at least the capacity for
   developing a desire for prayer; and

   (3) a readiness to give oneself to a life of
   sacrifice in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

   The practical question arises of how to
recognize a true vocation to the religious life. The
need for recognizing a vocation is so important
that everything else is secondary. I believe that if
every prospective candidate were to make a private
retreat, even for a few days, under a competent
priest, it would help immensely. The retreat could
be especially geared to a person who thinks that he
or she has a vocation to the religious life. Then,
during the retreat, in an atmosphere of silence and
prayer, ask God to enlighten one's mind as to
whether or not He is calling the person to a life of
Christian perfection. 
 This, in fact, is one of the
original purposes of the Spiritual Exercises of St.
Ignatius: to discover and decide on one's state of

   The future of religious life is very promising,
but the promise depends on certain premises, of
which the first and most important is that God has
given not just the initial call but the assurance of
a lifetime of His supernatural grace to those who
want to serve Him in the religious life.

Copyright (c) 1979, Society for Religious Vocations
                       10016 South Komensky Avenue
                       Oak Lawn, IL 60453


Provided Courtesy of EWTN
5817 Old Leeds Road
Irondale, AL 35210

Challenges to Religious life.

Challenges  to Religious life.
Being integrated into a Catholic culture increases the likelihood of the consid
eration of a vocation. There is a correlation that those who attend Catholic schools,
participate in parish youth groups, know a priest, sister, or brother, and are invited
to think about a religious vocation tend to be more open to a religious vocation. The
Church needs to support more structured outreach to younger people so as to ensure
their integration into a Catholic culture.
Educational debt prevents men and women from pursuing a vocation. Every third
person who inquires about religious life has an average student loan of $28,000. We
are losing vocations because of this issue. Seven out of 10 communities have turned
some inquirers away within the last ten years because of educational debt. One third
of communities say that some serious inquirers do not pursue an application because
of their debt, while another one third does not complete their application because of
their student loans.
Only thirty percent of newer entrants to religious life indicate that their parents
very much encouraged them in their desire to pursue a vocation. The Church needs
to provide greater education and structures of support for parents and families in their
vital role of vocation promotion.
Religious life in the United States has traditionally drawn its
membership from
immigrant populations. Those who may consider a vocation today
may be discour
aged by their citizenship status or by the educational prerequisites for entrance into
a community. The Church needs to look at creative solutions. The National Religious
Vocation Conference plans to conduct a study on the integration of men and women
from diverse cultures and ethnic backgrounds into predominately white, Caucasian
religious institutes


Prepared by the NRVC, February 2013
Survey estimates suggest that as many as 350,000 never married men and 250,000
never married women have seriously considered becoming a priest, sister, or brother.
Those of the millennial generation (born after 1982) are even more likely than the
generation before them to consider a vocation. Surveys also suggest that those entering
religious life today are a little younger than those who were entering ten years ago.
People who attend a Catholic school, know a priest, sister, or brother, or who have
been invited by a priest, sister, or brother to enter the priesthood or religious life are
more likely to consider seriously a religious vocation.
Some religious institutes continue to attract and few are experiencing significant
growth. About 20 percent of religious institutes have more than five members in
Those coming to religious life today tend to be optimistic in their outlook, toler
ant of differences among people, and positive in their attitudes toward authority. They
believe religious life will persevere.
In 2009 there were over 2,600 men and women in religious formation in the
United States. There are more men preparing to be religious priests and brothers
(more than half) than there are women preparing to be sisters (less than half). The
retention rate is 50% (it is higher for women than men).
The “face” of religious life is changing in the U.S. Compared to finally professed
members who are 94% white Caucasian, newer entrants are more likely to be non-
Caucasian: 21% are Hispanic/Latino/a; 14% are Asian or Pacific Islander and 6% are
African, Black, or African American.
Newer entrants are well educated. About 70% have at least a bachelor’s degree
upon entrance. However, one third of applicants have at least $20,000 in educational
debt when they enter, an increasing financial burden for the communities that receive
Religious institutes are more likely to attract newer members if they have a strong
Catholic identity, if they are hopeful about their future, if their members live together
in community, and if they have a structured prayer life.
Although newer members desire ministry (70% were already involved in full or
part-time ministry prior to entrance), their primary reasons for coming to religious life
are a sense of call, a desire to deepen their prayer and spiritual life, and a desire to live
with others who share their faith and values.
Approximately 160 women and men professed perpetual vows in religious life in
2012. About 110 of these newly professed were sisters and nuns