By FATHER GARY S. LINSKY
Our parishes will take up a second collection for the Diocese of Charleston’s annual Seminary Appeal. Perhaps I am more sensitive to this collection because it wasn’t all that long ago since I myself was in the seminary. Still, my sensitivity to this collection is heightened because of the ever-increasing need we have for priests. Until recently, we may have felt ourselves slightly immune to this need because our parish has not lacked either a resident or near resident priest. Yet times are changing. Twelve parishes in our Diocese lack a pastor and as Bishop (David) Thompson recently indicated in an article in The New Catholic Miscellany, more parishes may soon be added to this list. Indeed, I was just recently sent an article by the Vicar General of the Diocese of Charleston entitled “Alternate Staffing of Parishes” to prayerfully consider.
Frankly, I do not personally subscribe to the theory that there is a vocation shortage. However, I do think that we have failed to adequately address this issue. Perhaps the weakest link in this arena is the priests themselves. If we are not happy or content in our vocation then others are less likely to want to follow. But why are priests unhappy. To some extent, we have had to deal with an ongoing evolution of roles and responsibilities. In the United States, priests are no longer placed on a pedestal but instead can be judged very harshly. Priests are trying to do more work with less assistance — sometimes this means serving more than one parish or, in other cases, being alone in a parish that requires more than one priest. Rarely do parishioners understand these realities — they only know that they might be receiving as much “hands-on” service as they perceive having received in years past. In many parishes the laity have stood up to the plate and volunteered to do more so that their priests are more free to do the pastoral and sacramental work that they alone can accomplish. Sadly, this is not always the case which is why many, myself included at times, can feel overwhelmed by the challenge of the vocation. Yet, I hope this does not destroy my enthusiasm but instead makes me realize how much greater is the possible impact of my continued willingness to serve you by acting in the person of Christ!
Only now are many dioceses acknowledging these realities and developing more aggressive recruiting plans. But recruiting vocations is more than filling a job vacancy because the priesthood is a calling of a much greater magnitude requiring the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps complacency and selfishness among us all is the greater challenge. We might not wish to sacrifice the potential of having grandchildren. Or, perhaps having always had a priest, we’ve taken it for granted that we always will. Only when we face the cancellation of services or the potential of parish closure do we come face-to-face with the current reality in the Church.
The Diocese asks for your money to help support the seminarians we do have. However, I ask for much more. As we have in the past, I ask for your commitment to pray daily for vocations — a prayer we utter at every Mass! I also ask you to be more generous of heart by realizing that priests come from the Body of Christ. Perhaps there are those among you having a vocation — are these boys or men encouraged? And when we have a priest, do we try to follow his leadership and remember him in our prayers as we seek our remembrance in his?
The old saying goes “when the going gets tough, the tough get going!” Age and experience are rapidly teaching me my own limitations. We need more hands! Will you help me with yours and encourage the vocations that are in our midst? We may have to put up with the shortage for awhile (even with a college degree in hand it takes six years of study and formation before a man can be ordained.) However, with God’s grace, you and I, working together, can do much to help the Church to find shepherds willing to lead a needy flock in the new millennium.
Father Gary Linsky is pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Gaffney and St. Augustine Church in Union. This column first appeared in the Sacred Heart Parish bulletin.