Have you ever found yourself attempting to reinvent the wheel? I know I have. In times like that we find ourselves saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” As I watch the world around me, I find this thought reoccurring; so many aspects of society that had been finely tuned over centuries and generations are thrown out for something newer, intended to be better than what it replaced and falling short. What society has carefully groomed and allowed to grow and change organically, modern man has demolished to ground level and replaced with a cookie cutter version of what once stood in its place. Social media replaced conversations, video games replaced tree houses, privacy-fenced backyards replaced front porches, and Wii Fitness replaced actual exercise. Have we as a Church done this too?
Following the upheaval of society in the 1960s, Catholic vocations to the priesthood and religious life plummeted to historic lows. They have (or had) steadily regained steam around the world throughout John Paul II’s tenure as Pontiff and reached their post-1950’s high in the waning years of Benedict XVI’s. Since 2012, those numbers have stabilized and the growth that had been experienced has come to a halt. These numbers were increased predominantly in non-Western regions and masked to some extent the on going crisis in the West. There are certainly any number of causes for the vocations crisis, but there are also many exceptions to the rule. More than a few diocese, religious orders and Catholic communities around the world have defied or bucked the trends of the steady – or not so steady– decrease in vocations.
I would encourage you to read these articles, blogs and web pages and let them speak for themselves.
HERE is an article which provides an overarching look at vocational shortfalls and successes.
HERE a short story on the dramatic turn around of a parish and it’s vocation contribution. All in a city and state typically hostile to Catholic culture.
HERE a Catholic Blogger’s analysis of the Diocese of Lincoln – and its notable success of the past 50 years.
HERE is a statistical look at the size and growth of the Fraternal Society of St. Peter (or FSSP), one of many newer, vibrant and growing traditional communities.
HERE is a statistical look at the Society of St. Pius X. (or SSPX). The SSPX is a canonically-irregular society of traditionalist priest and religious currently in negotiations to return to full communion with the Pope. Though not the best model of obedience, their vocational success on an international scale cannot be argued, especially in parts of Europe where the ordinary diocese are struggling to pay the bills.
I recognize that the crisis facing vocations is not a simple one-stop shop problem to solve. I also do not pretend that the models found in these links provide all the answers. Despite that, there seems to be one consistent theme. Although not completely uniform in their application, the Catholic communities, orders, and diocese in the Church that are not experiencing a vocational crisis are generally ones that hold to an older time-tested and more traditional approach to Catholicism. Many such diocese hold strictly to the rubrics which formulated the new Mass following the Second Vatican Council. That is to say they still largely incorporate the use of Latin, Gregorian chant, and Ad Orientem worship into their regular parish Masses. These groups have also made little or no attempt to counter—and have even encouraged—the spread and promotion of the Traditional Latin Mass alongside the newer form of the Mass most of us are accustomed to. These groups also tend to ignore the over-emphasis on accompaniment and softening of attitudes toward sin that seems so prevalent in many churches today.
In contrast they stress the importance of accountability, repentance, conformity to the gospel and Eucharistic piety. In the Diocese of Lincoln because of their higher levels of vocations, they have been able to continue to offer no-cost to low-cost Catholic education to their students. With enough priests and habited sisters teaching in their schools they do not incur the extra cost of too many salaried employees and thus can offset the lack of tax support and their growing enrollment numbers reflect. This also seems to have formed a symbiotic relationship to higher vocations.
Since we were children we were told to learn from our mistakes. My parents also taught me that a truly wise man also learns from the mistakes and successes of others. The Diocese of Lincoln, The Fraternal Society of St. Peter, the entire country of Poland and the entire continent of Africa may not hold the answers for a worldwide shortage of priests and religious. However, something about the way they are carrying out their faith formation is working. Something about the way the rest of the Church is doing it is not. Doesn’t their model warrant a closer work? I don’t know what a closer investigation would find. The models they are using may not be applicable to the Church at large. On the flipside, we may discover we’ve been trying to reinvent the wheel all along.
UPDATE: This article HERE was just published in the Catholic Herald, the United Kingdom’s leading Catholic publication. It provides an additional look at the Catholic youth’s growing love of more traditional Catholicism.