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.