Why So Few Candidates?

by Cardinal Godfried Danneels

If we tried to determine the cause of there being so few people coming forward to prepare for the priesthood, there are many reasons. Let me just tell you a few of the reasons I have identified.

First of all, becoming a priest is no longer a social promotion. It is actually, perhaps, an instance of downward mobility. Nowadays, priests often come under a lot of criticism, and people feel sorry for them. A second reason for the scarcity is that families are getting smaller and smaller . . .When parents have two children they do not necessarily want to see one of them in the priesthood. A third reason is that our society is almost entirely secular, a society where God has disappeared. Religion is no longer talked about. We are no longer taken seriously. A fourth reason is that many people grapple with a negative image of the church and of the priesthood.

What is more difficult and tougher is a fifth point, namely, that we are no longer looking towards the invisible in our society. The world no longer sees God. God has become invisible. God has become a cosmic, vital energy. God is no longer a person. God has been reduced.

The soil where the seed of the vocation falls is the human heart. It is there in the most sacred and intimate center of the person that the Lord makes his voice heard and calls whom he will. When the heart is not open and willing, the seed cannot take root and bear fruit.

This is the main problem that lies at the root of the vocation crisis. In fact, often in the hearts of our young people a mentality prevails which reduces the future to the choice of a profession, to economic well-being, or emotional satisfaction solely within earthly horizons. These are chosen without any openness to mystery or to the transcendent.

Not many young people nowadays ask themselves, Who called me to life and why was I called to live? Rather, they move around without even touching on the affective, cultural and religious levels. They love "to try things," "to experience," "to attempt." Buried under mountains of information but with such sandy foundations, they often appear lost, so that they are afraid of their future and face it with anxiety; they are willing to help out but not to give themselves; they will go this far and no farther; commitment and permanent choices are delayed and avoided.

(Excerpt from an address given by Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Brussels, Belgium to an international consultation of seminary rectors. Reprinted with permission from: Origins, Vol. 28: No.15)

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