Skip to comments.Good News About Vocations – Part 2 of 6: Young Catholics On Fire For Their Faith
Posted on 11/27/2010 12:54:05 PM PST by ConservativeStLouisGuy
Moral permissiveness does not make people happy Pope John Paul II, speaking to young people in Paris, France, June 1, 1980.
When St. Gregory the Great Seminary opened 10 years ago near Lincoln, Nebraska, it was the first free-standing college seminary founded since 1979. If recent trends among young Catholics continue, it wont be the last.
There is a kind of exuberance about the faith now that was not present in my generation, notes Msgr. John Folda, St. Gregorys rector.
Father Tom Wilson of Minnesota, a board member of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocations Directors, concurs. We are seeing young men on fire for God, seriously willing to discern Gods will, whatever it is.
So just as U.S. Catholics are becoming accustomed to later-in-life vocations, younger seminarians are making a comeback. College-age American men, Father Wilson says, are showing a greater willingness and openness to consider the priesthood than fifteen or twenty years ago.
Enrollment for college-level formation programs has inched up after falling dramatically for nearly four decades. In 1968, more than 13,400 undergraduates were in U.S. seminaries, according to CARA, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. By 1978, that number had fallen below 4,600. The low point was 2004-2005, with only 1,248 college seminarians (not counting older students in pre-theology programs). Within three years, that total had risen to 1,381.
Wilson, who directed vocation efforts in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis for seven years, marvels at the young priesthood candidates he sees-how zealous, how motivated they are, even at age 18. Today, living ones faith is not a given. It must be a conscious decision, Wilson says, a vigorous reaction against a culture that seems increasingly anti-Christian and antireligious.
In his archdiocese, college seminary enrollment has doubled in the past six years. Last fall, St. John Vianney in St. Paul reported a total of 152 seminarians. The largest college-level program in the country, it draws young men from 27 dioceses.
Of course, entering a seminary does not commit someone to the priesthood. As Wilson, Folda, and others tell parents, their sons are entering an environment in which they can faithfully discern Gods will. Even those who leave before finishing have a solid grounding in their faith that serves them well as lay members of their church.
Nebraskas St. Gregory the Great enrolled thirty-seven men from five dioceses in September. It accepts entering freshmen, pre-theology students, and transfers, often from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and its very active Newman Center. Nineteen St. Gregory graduates are now ordained priests.
The Diocese of Lincoln, in fact, frequently tops CARAs list of dioceses with the highest ordinations per Catholic. Grounded in Americas heartland, its considered orthodox or traditional in orientation. St. Gregory emphasizes fidelity to the teaching authority of the church, knowledge of the scriptures, and a very consistent and effective catechesis, Folda says. Seminarians wear clerical garb, and their regular prayer life includes Marian devotions, Holy Hour, and Eucharistic Adoration.
In recent years, the rector says, the Divine Mercy Chaplet has become very widely known and very well loved among the seminarians.
To the surprise of many, such practices are becoming popular among young Catholic men and women across the country. They find meaning in devotions and liturgy that their parents dismiss as old-fashioned.
So whats going on with the younger generation? Author Mike Hayes calls it a general religious awakening, a search for certainty in an era of ambiguity. Hayes is associate director of Paulist Young Adult Ministries and author of Googling God: The Religious Landscape of People in Their 20s and 30s. In a world where life seems very fleeting, he writes, young adults search for things they can depend on, things that have stood the test of time, things they regard as true, and things greater than themselves.
David J. Hartline, a former Catholic school teacher, coach, and principal, chronicles the rising strength of orthodoxy, even among the young, in his 2006 book The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism. Young people, he writes, are no different than anyone else. They want truth. They may not have agreed with Pope John Paul II on every issue, but they respected him because he was authentic, and he gave them the truth, whole, unflinching, and unfiltered.
Thats why the world witnessed thousands of young people shaken and crying at the death of John Paul. They felt a personal relationship with him-a closer and more honest relationship, in many cases, than with their own grandfathers.
Folda has witnessed this phenomenon-the popes connection to young Catholics-since his own youth. When I entered the seminary in 1983, he said, Pope John Paul II was our hero and continued to be, year after year, decade after decade.
In April 2008, Folda and a group of seminarians attended the youth rally for Pope Benedict XVI at St. Josephs Seminary in New York. I saw just as much wild enthusiasm with him among the young people as I did [earlier] with Pope John Paul II. Both of these very holy men have really reached out to them, and I think its been a powerful thing a life-changing experience.
Wilson agrees. He accompanied about 30 young Minnesota Catholics to World Youth Day in Australia last summer. Vocations Expo was packed, body to body, he recalls.
It was Wilsons fourth World Youth Day, the first being as a seminarian in 1993. The encounters with the Holy Father and the universal Church help crystallize in young people what the Church is-not just an institution, but people of every race, nationality, and tongue. A worldwide, visible church.
Which makes World Youth Day a powerful catalyst for vocations. It puts priesthood and religious life into a larger, more understandable context, Wilson says, creating an environment in which faith is honored, faith is respected, faith is expected, versus an environment where faith is denigrated, faith is mocked.
That same affirming environment is created on several university campuses and at youth conferences such as those sponsored by Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Two are held in Louisiana each summer-Steubenville South in Alexandria and Steubenville on the Bayou in Houma.
These are moving experiences for high school students, says Micah Murphy, 23, youth minister for St. Jude Catholic Church in Bossier City, Louisiana, and a recent graduate of Franciscan University. Its a springboard to get them interested in learning about their faith.
Of the thousands attending, many step forward, in a type of altar call, and make public their interest in living out their faith.
Papal visits, World Youth Day, youth conferences, campus ministries-all are effective in engaging young people. As Father Wilson has witnessed with World Youth Day, they can open a line of communication between God and a young man or young woman that may bear further fruit.
It allows them to first hear the call.
No surprise that the mainline seminaries are intellectually impoverished, attract mostly mediocre students and those with serious personal problems, and are starving for true vocations.
Thanks for picking up the threads that I had saved but had not yet posted.
Blessings for Advent!
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