Dear Friends in Christ:
Last week, Fr. Clark and I took two of the seminarians from our parish, Rick Arriola and Justin Cormie, out to dinner. It was a nice evening. Both of these young men, God willing, will be ordained to the priesthood this coming June 1. Please keep them in your prayers. During the course of the evening, it was interesting to listen to their hopes and fears as they approach this important day in their lives. I took interest not only in the comments of Deacon Rick and Deacon Justin but also in Fr. Clark’s impressions as a young priest. It was good for me to see where the “young guys” are at. While the numbers of seminarians is a serious concern, the quality of the men answering the call as evidenced by these young men is a sign of hope. They have a deep love of God, an ardent love of the church and strong desire to serve God’s people. They are intelligent, zealous and hard working. They both have hearts that desire to assist people in the path of holiness. We are indeed blessed!
A major concern for the Church is the number of priests. Few people in the pew seem to realize how rapidly the situation is changing and how much more the declining numbers are going to impact how parishes operate. This is going to impact every Catholic and every parish. How we do things today is not how they are going to be done in the future! When I entered the seminary in 1976, the largest parish was maybe 1000 families and my entrance class had 60 men. To put things in perspective, today our parish, which is the 15th largest in the archdiocese, has 5000 families and the seminary had a dozen men enter this fall. When I entered the seminary, the ratio of priests to Catholics in this diocese was 1:959 (and that was considered high). Today the ratio is 1:4,029. This is due to an explosive growth in the Catholic population and a dramatic decline in the number of men entering the seminary and being ordained. Yet I recall a priest telling me back then that while the number of men is important, what is more important is the quality of the men. One good priest can do more for the Kingdom than ten mediocre or tepid priests. That was true then and it is still true today especially as we face even greater challenges.
What is true of priestly and religious vocations is even truer for Catholic marriages and families. The vocation shortage of Catholic marriages and families is something we should all be concerned with. Our world and society are in great need of holy, healthy and happily married couples and vibrant Catholic families. We need many more couples who are zealously devoted to the holiness of one another and their children. We need young people who, when looking at their own futures, first ask ‘what is God calling me to do with my life?’ We need husbands and wives willing to sacrifice not just for the material welfare of their children but for the spiritual well-being of their children and grandchildren. Our world and our society and God’s Church need Catholics who are on fire in their love of God and truly excited about the faith. This kind of love and excitement does not come from embracing every popular fad or the latest trend. Those things quickly fade away and cannot sustain anyone for very long (remember Kumbaya, Clap Your Hands, clown Masses and felt banners?). Rather it comes from those eternal truths, teachings, practices, values and traditions passed on from generation to generation. As St. John XXIII said,
“The Church is like the ancient village well that gives water to the present generation as it did to those of the past.”
We need more people – wives, husbands, children, teens, young adults – on fire with love and faith, who cherish and truly appreciate what a tremendous gift our Catholic faith is. We need people who are so on fire in love with God that they are willing to not only live their Catholic faith ardently but share the Catholic faith with others. Countless people are dying of thirst and yet in the Church, we have a wonderful, beautiful well filled with fresh, life giving water waiting to quench these thirsty hearts.
Live the Faith, love the faith, share the faith!
In Pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately