There is a great deal of talk about a "vocation" crisis in the Church. While the observation may be accurate, the statement reveals a great error in semantics. A "vocation" crisis would imply that God has stopped calling men and women to serve him in religious life and the priesthood. Somehow that seems inconceivable. It seems more accurate to say that we are having a "responding" crisis.
Many gifted thinkers, theologians, and sociologists have speculated as to why this might be the case. Convincing arguments abound. One observation -- especially among those of us who work with young people -- is that popular culture presents a subtle message to today's youth: "Keep your options open. Don't commit to anything too soon. If you keep your options open, you will have a life without suffering or sacrifice." This is a lie. A deadly lie.
There is no "life choice," that does not involve a sacrifice. Getting married means choosing to spend the rest of one's life with a particular person, precluding the freedom to date other people. Making a choice means, de facto, that other options are removed. Going to graduate school in one field, means closing the door to studying other disciplines. Responding to the call to be a religious or a priest means foregoing the possibility of marriage, the gift of children and the choice of one's professional career. All life choices involve sacrifice. Life choices in accord with God's will also involve great joy. Any parent will agree that while raising children demands great sacrifice and includes a share of suffering it is also (and foremost) a great joy. Religious who have spent many years in a given community can share stories of great sacrifice but they so often they have a glow about them which reveals a deep joy.
Our freedom as human beings does not come because we do not "commit" to anything and by so doing, "keep our options open." Our freedom is exercised in the very act of making a commitment. And so, on this day when we pray for vocations, let us pray for a great response to the call of the Lord. Let us pray that men and women who have heard the Lord's call will have the grace to respond generously and courageously.