by Fr. Dwight Longenecker
When I say this is a prophecy I don’t want to suggest that I have had some sort of supernatural vision. This is not a prophecy in that sense, but a prophecy because prophets not only sometimes have supernatural revelations, but they are people who are also able to see the big picture, understand the times and circumstances and know the past so they can therefore predict the future.
So here is my prediction: the vocations crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States is over.
Here’s why: Fifty years after the revolution of the Second Vatican Council we are moving on from the tensions it created. Those tensions existed because Catholics kept comparing the pre-Vatican II church to the post-Vatican II church. The ones who did this most were the folks who went through the Vatican II revolution. The Vatican II modern Catholics–for their whole life–could not help but compare the “new” church to the “old” church. Everything was viewed through that lens. A pope, bishop, priest or theologian was therefore either “conservative” and “pre Vatican 2″ and trying to turn the clock back or they were “liberal” in favor of the “Spirit of Vatican 2″ and progressive.
To be blunt, those people are old. Not only are they dying out, but their ideas are dying out. Their places are being taken by a younger generation of Catholics who do not remember the Vatican 2 wars. The old folks would like to brand the young Catholics as “conservatives” or “traditionalists” or even “arch conservatives.” Some of them are, but most of them are not. They are young. They’re smart and they simply want to be Catholic. They’re not buying into the whole liberal agenda, but most of them also don’t care that much for the traditionalist agenda.
These are the young people who are filling traditional religious orders with young vocations. These are the young men who are going to seminary, and the reason their numbers will continue to grow is because of several other factors.
First, cultural Catholicism in America is dying. People aren’t Catholic now because they’re Irish or Italian or Polish. They’re Catholic because they believe the Catholic faith. While cultural Catholicism continues to die out committed Catholicism will continue to rise. Cultural catholicism doesn’t produce vocations. Committed Catholicism does.
Second, faith is always stronger under fire. At this time American Catholicism is in too many places fat, lazy and complacent. The American culture, however, is moving very rapidly to an aggressively atheistic stance. The Catholic Church will increasingly be in the firing line over a whole range of moral, political and financial issues. As it becomes difficult and dangerous to be Catholic the complacent and comfortable Catholics will quietly slip away. They are doing so already.
Third, as it becomes difficult and dangerous to be Catholic more young men will stand up to be counted. Men like the militant aspect of being a priest. They want to stand up for what they believe in without compromise. They want to fight the good fight with all their might. The Church militant will make a come back and an increasing number of men will step forward to be engaged in the spiritual battle.
I believe all this will take place. We are seeing it start to happen even now. This, however, will not be a return to the days of Bing Crosby priests, happy nuns and a faux 1950s “leave it to Beaver” Catholicism. The Holy Spirit never moves back. Always forward. In the coming crisis it will be, as emeritus Pope Benedict has predicted, a leaner, stronger church.
When I say the vocations crisis is over I don’t mean that we will necessarily be flooded with many priests.
But we will be supplied with good, courageous and strong priests.