We have a call to support vocations

By | March 2, 2011

On Feb. 2, World Day for Consecrated Life, the U.S. bishops released a report on religious women who made their final vows last year (2010). The report was compiled by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. It surveyed the 79 women reported in the profession class of 2010; 68 sisters and nuns from more than 367 religious communities took the survey.

While the small number of professions made last year is a concern, more sobering is that fact that many of the women said their parents, family members and friends had discouraged them from entering religious life:

n 51 percent said their parents or family discouraged them;

n 26 percent said a friend or classmate had discouraged them.

Of course, other parents did encourage their daughters’ vocation. Roughly a quarter of the women said their mothers (26 percent) had encouraged them to consider religious life. And 16 percent had been so encouraged by their fathers.

Reasons for parental encouragement and discouragement can only be guessed at, since this survey did not seek parents’ input. But here are some thoughts.

The average age for women religious today is 69.

The national Retirement Fund for Religious estimates that, by the end of the decade, religious (men and women) past age 70 will outnumber those under age 70 by nearly four to one. That means each active religious, including those now entering religious life, will support four retired members by 2019. That is a heavy burden to consider.

Likewise, parents might be concerned about their daughters being lonely. Last summer, CARA released its annual U.S. Catholic statistics. They showed that women in religious life had declined from 179,954 in 1965 to 56,544. Religious brothers numbered 12,271 in 1965. Today, there are 4,690.

The Catholic population, however, swelled from 45.6 million in 1965 to 65.6 million.

There is a probable concern about grandchildren. The CARA survey showed that women entering religious life in 2010 came from families of three or more children (77 percent). And the average age of the newly professed was 43.

Finally, it is possible that the secular world’s notion of success affects parents’ dreams for their children. Men and women in religious life take vows of chastity, obedience and poverty. They own little. (But, as our faith teaches, they posses much.)

And that’s where all of us — parents or not — come in. We are the treasure of the church. We exist for the good of each other. We are here to support each other.

For the Feb. 2 profession report told us something that we should all remember about vocations: the women making vows last year said they were encouraged to consider religious life by someone else. Nine out of 10 said this.

Most were encouraged by someone who knew the life intimately — 52 percent said they were encouraged by a religious sister. 39 percent said a parish priest encouraged them.

But 44 percent said they were encouraged by a friend.

We, each one of us, needs to encourage religious vocations. There are many ways to do this — prayer, financial support, raising our children in the faith.

Most of all, we need to speak up, to encourage our young people to listen to what the Lord has placed in their hearts and to help them through the challenging times.

For all of us, these are challenging times in our church. But we need to remember that Christ is still at work in his church; the Holy Spirit still breathes over the world and God always loves us.

Let’s remind others of that, because we all have a calling to bring about the Kingdom of God. Encouraging religious vocations is one crucial way to do just that.

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