“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew.
And, he might have added: “Where two or three gather to encourage a religious vocation, there stands a better chance that a young person will give it thoughtful consideration.”
This is the conclusion of a recent study conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, and it confirms something Catholics have known for a long time: A personal invitation to consider priesthood or religious life leads to more vocations.
Ask any priest, sister, deacon or brother to tell you his or her vocation story and it’s the rare exception not to hear that, somewhere along the way, someone invited and encouraged them to consider this life of service to God and the church.
The more, the better
In fact, according to the CARA study, the more people — priests, parents, grandparents, religious sisters and brothers, teachers, youth ministers — who encourage a person to consider a religious vocation, the better.
Among men considering priesthood or religious life, “Respondents who have one person encouraging them are nearly twice as likely to consider a vocation as those who are not encouraged,” the study said. “Each additional person encouraging these respondents increases the likelihood of consideration. The effect is additive. Respondents who had three persons encourage them would be expected to be more than five times more likely to consider a vocation than someone who was not encouraged by anyone.”
The same holds true for women considering religious life: “Similar to male respondents, encouragement is also a positive factor,” the study found. “With nearly the same effect as is demonstrated among men, women are nearly twice as likely to consider a vocation when encouraged by another person to do so.”
It’s important to remember that an invitation doesn’t automatically lead to more people entering seminaries and religious communities. And, there are other factors that influence vocation discernment (Catholic school attendance and parish youth group involvement also are positive influences). But it’s hard to overestimate the importance of the invitation.
In a post on the CARA research blog, one of the study’s authors, Mark Gray, noted that the most common answer people gave for not encouraging someone else to consider a vocation was that it’s an individual decision and “none of my business.”
It’s our business
But it is your business. It’s my business. It’s everyone’s business as a member of the church. Everyone who is concerned about the shortage of priests or the decline in the number of religious sisters and its affect on the vitality of the church needs to understand, as Gray says, that “they are part of the process.”
Jesus knew the power of personal invitation — that’s how he called his apostles to follow him. We need to extend a similar invitation to the young men and women in our lives who we think might be well-suited for a religious vocation.
Jesus clearly is still the one who ultimately does the calling, but in today’s world filled with loud and varied voices competing for the attention of young adults, we can invite them to listen a little more closely to whether God is indeed trying to get their attention.