Year for Priests: Thoughts on vocations

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

As a young priest, I am often asked to speak on the topic of vocations to the priesthood.  As a result, I spend a fair amount of energy thinking and conversing about the issue, and was recently encouraged to put a few ideas in writing.  There are, of course, numerous thoughts, books, conferences and opinions concerning the cultivation of vocations. So, while I do not believe these ideas to be innovative, I do hope they serve as good reminders about the support each person makes to the “vineyard.”

Perceptions of holiness

Most people believe that the largest obstacle to the priesthood in the minds of young men is celibacy. However, I have not found this to be true.  As far as religious life is concerned, the vow of obedience is much more daunting to a very independent generation.  Yet, even more than any notions concerning the vows, are ideas that stem from ignorance about the personhood of a priest.  In a recent survey by my own community, we discovered that many young men in our schools have “seriously considered” the priesthood, but do not feel that they are “holy” enough.  We concluded that when priests served in greater numbers, young men had greater opportunities to know the man behind the collar – as a man who struggles with prayer and service as much as most people.  Thus, it seems one task of everyone who promotes vocations is to demystify the preconceived notions of priestly holiness, allowing for priests to be seen as men who are devoted to the spiritual life, but are quite far from holy.  Admittedly, many believe the recent scandals have over-humanized the priesthood, but I have not found this to be true.  Young men seem to know the exceptions when they see them and still place the office of the priesthood on an almost unreachable altar.

A choice among many

The second challenge I have found concerns the choices afforded to those who may consider the priesthood.  In my own community, many of the elder priests entered because that is what a friend was doing or because they did not see many other options available to them.  Many of these men confess that they stayed because they felt called, but their original reason was not as special as some may think.  This is a very different scenario for modern men who are often afforded more options than they know to handle.  Thus, the priesthood must be promoted as one of many choices.  While it is a call, it is often difficult to hear in the beginning.  If men are to hear God’s voice, then the priesthood must be promoted as the best choice over the others.  In the beginning, I believe this requires a pragmatic and inspirational line of reasoning to capture their mind in addition to their heart.

A family affair

While it is important to speak to young men (and women) about vocations, my parents often remind me that I am not the only one living my vocation.  As a religious-order priest, my parents have a whole new family of Basilians, whom are often quite close to them.  Of course, they did not expect this; in fact, they did not know what to expect.  While many people spoke to me about priesthood, no one talked to them.  My parents have since spoken to other parents about what it is like to have a son as a priest, and the response is quite positive.  Simply put, parents have as many concerns as those considering the priesthood, and while they want to support their son, they often do not know how.  My encouragement to pastors has been simple – bring young priests, and their parents, to the parish.  If we are to encourage the families to promote vocations, give the whole family a reason to talk about it.

In closing, I hope you share your thoughts on this topic – successes, concerns and hopes.

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil last May and is teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan.

Click here for more in this series.

Who’s tweeting for the Vatican?

VATICAN CITY — Over the weekend some media announced that the Vatican had opened a Twitter feed. Intrigued, I quickly went to @vatican_va on Twitter. At first glance, it looked like the Vatican — there was the Vatican coat of arms, the Vatican flag and a link to the Vatican Web site. And hundreds of tweets in many languages, linking to Vatican Radio stories.

Then I e-mailed Father Federico Lombardi, who heads both the Vatican press office and Vatican Radio. I got a response rather quickly, and a surprising one. He said the Twitter feed was news to him, and that neither the press office nor Vatican Radio was doing the tweeting. A call to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications elicited a similar response: it wasn’t them, and they didn’t know who it was.

Hmmm. This was beginning to look more and more like online impersonation.  Perhaps not the first, either: I knew there was already a @vaticanen Twitter feed that also identified itself as “Vatican” without, as far as I knew, any authorization.

A few more calls around the Vatican this morning elicited more surprise and some concern. I have the impression that Vatican Radio may be seriously considering a Twitter feed, and doesn’t like being hijacked like this.

At this point, no one I’ve spoken with here has any idea who’s tweeting for the Vatican. More as it develops…

UPDATE: The Vatican_va tweeter appears to have been silenced. No tweets on http://twitter.com/vatican_va since Monday afternoon. Yesterday someone at the Vatican told me this tweeter wouldn’t be posting for long … and he was right. The whole episode has prompted some Vatican media people to remark, “It wasn’t us — but it should have been us.” So don’t be surprised to see a real Vatican Twitter feed in the future.

Some may be aware of a similar Twitter account that calls itself  “popebenedictxvi“. It posted quite a few items last year about papal activities, gained more than 3,700 followers, and then fell quiet until recently. This tweeter, though, states clearly near the top of the page: “This is not an official Vatican service. I’m just a fan doing his part to spread the word.” And his latest tweet, sent Jan. 24 after the pope issued his World Communications Day message on new media, issues this invitation: “If anyone at the Vatican would like to claim this Twitter acct, pls Direct Message me.” That seems like an offer too good to refuse.

SECOND UPDATE: OK, @vatican_va is back tweeting like crazy again, though it looks like whatever automated system he/she is using to link to Vatican Radio stories is having some hiccups. I really wish there were a way to identify the people behind Twitter accounts.

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