New Vocations

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

December 16, 2004

 

            From the overhead “sky walks” the cavernous central hall of the Pittsburgh convention center looked full. Inside there were more than 2,000 people at round tables, ready to sing morning prayer. The prayer was joyful. Everyone sang.

            After the prayer, Brian Johnson, the director the Youth Ministry office for the diocese of Galveston-Houston got up to address the National Conference of Catholic Youth Ministry.

Half singing and half preaching, he soon had us all on our feet; praising, clapping and cheering for the power of God. “I feel Jesus in the air, somewhere over me,” he sang. We answered, “That’s right.”

            An observer who had missed the sign at the door might have been forgiven if they thought this was a Baptist revival. At one point, wiping his sweating brow with a huge white hankie, Johnson declared with a grin, “Yes I am a Catholic.” 

His style might have been Baptist revival, but his message was all Catholic. God still reigns. Despite all our difficulties, the Church still lives. His message lifted us up. It was a true moment of grace.

            During his message (speech does not do it justice) I looked around the hall.

There were more than 2,000 people in attendance convention for Catholic youth ministers. Almost none of them were ordained clergy. At one point a speaker asked all lay ministers to stand and clergy to be seated. Almost everyone remained standing.

            They people were young and energetic. When the music came on, they got up and danced.

            Most of these people work in low paying jobs in dioceses and parishes across the country. Most are married. Many have young children of their own.

They have given their lives in service to the Church.

They are pied pipers of God. They teach religious education classes, coordinate youth groups, they organize young adult programs and lead choirs. They also organized summer work camps and retreats, youth rallies and pilgrimages.  In short, they make the Church a living presence to young people in ways that white haired old priests like myself never could.

            Looking at this convention in Pittsburgh, I had a sort of epiphany.

            “Here they are!” I thought. “Here are the vocations of the Church.”

            Thirty years ago many of these people might have entered religious life as sisters and brothers. The men might have been ordained priests.

But vocations have in many cases “morphed” as the kids say, into a new form.

            They are no longer entering the religious orders. No longer are they going to teach in Catholic schools. Many do not want to be celibate. But they definitely do want to serve the church.

Besides the youth ministers three were several hundred other presenters and vendors. They also serve the church with incredible talent.

            People like Patrick Donovan from the Diocese of Wilmington who taught us how to use film to reach youth in religious education.

            Women like Lisa Calderone-Stewart from Milwaukee who told us how to reach the hardest group of all, middle schoolers with the life changing message of Christ.

            In the vendors’ hall there were Catholic musicians, comedians, publishers, recording artists and motivational speakers. There were people who organize faith based work camps and Catholic concerts and plays. There were publishers of Catholic “youth bibles” and makers of Catholic T-shirts and baseball caps.

            In short there were many gifts, but the same spirit.

            Somehow, under the call of the Holy Spirit the style and form of the religious vocation has changed in the last thirty-five years. The old religious order still appeals to some people, but very few.

            But there are still thousands of workers in the vineyard. There are still many people to serve the church.

            Anyone who doesn’t think so, should go to the next Conference on Catholic youth ministry. It will life your spirits and restore your faith.