I’m as concerned about increasing vocations to the priesthood and the religious life as much as the next person. I try to do my part to encourage those who are discerning such a life, and get involved in the Jesuit efforts at inviting others to share our life as much as possible. I want people to have the joy of living the life that I have the privilege of having been invited to. I also know that this life isn’t for everybody. But I am convinced that there is a life that is for everybody–a life lived in relationship with God.
So, when I think of a “vocation crisis” these days (and I think I have even a greater awareness of it when I’m in Europe, as I am now), I think more of the fact that it seems that fewer young people are even making a choice to live a life that involves God. I meet lots of young people who are dedicated to a sort of humanism (for lack of a better word), but whom are indifferent to the question of God’s presence or influence in their lives. Yet, how can you fault many of them who are doing generous and even heroic work for others in need? And how can you can convince them that they need God, when many of them are living much better and more virtuous lives than many who do claim a relationship with God or Jesus? If we believe our theology–“the desire for God is written in the human heart”–it seems that we could appeal to some sense that they have that they are missing something. But what if they don’t? Christians as committed as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died for his faith in God, have questioned whether we really do have this innate desire for God. Of course, he did it in the context of profound evil. Yet, there are many today who are working to help others in similar situations of evil, in may different parts of the world. Many of them are not motivated by God or any religious impulse. Or are they, and they just don’t know it? In the context of today’s greater social and cultural awareness, this appears a very arrogant thing to say. I want to believe it is true but, like Bonhoeffer, I am starting to have some doubts.
Given these realities, I’m starting to think about how we as Christians might address what seems the real vocation crisis that lies at the heart of all the others. How do we convince people that having a relationship with God is important, when they seem to be getting along well enough without it? Often at times of crisis people seem to be more aware of this need. But does that mean that we have to wait until we can be crisis counselors? That doesn’t seem to be the right answer. And while we could set about manufacturing a crisis for somebody, I’m uncomfortable with the moral implications of this strategy. In my own case, I hope that people would see that my relationship with God is the thing that drives my life, but often enough this doesn’t seem to register with those for whom God is not on their radar screen. Even the natural or even skeptical questions I might expect (and welcome) are never asked. Yet there has to be some way to break through this all.
I have friends who consider themselves non-religious. Yet, they have spiritual inclinations that help me see God seeping into some of their cracks. But it’s a slow process. But maybe there is also something of an answer in it. It may be that for many it just takes a long time for God to break through. But I’m going to keep thinking about how I might be able to help.