In today’s world, the sacred is often overwhelmed by the secular

Father John A. Kiley

The Second Vatican Council, the first council in Church history even to mention the word “laity,” rightly has shed much light on the assorted vocations and ministries open to all Roman Catholics. Today, lay persons working in America’s diocesan chancery offices and behind Catholic school teachers’ desks greatly outnumber both clergy and religious serving in those ministries. The Church’s lay workers clearly and prudently need the same solid Catholic experience that previous generations of clergy and religious happily experienced. The personnel have changed but the work has not. “How manifold are your works, O LORD! The earth is full of your creatures,” reads the psalm at Sunday’s Mass for Pentecost Sunday. Parish clergy, active religious and, today especially, Catholic parents must encourage Catholic vocations and Church ministries among the young by a vibrant Catholic life at home, at school, at church and out into the everyday world.
After I celebrated my first Mass at St. Charles Church in Woonsocket in 1966, a catered reception was held in the church hall for relatives and friends (salad, half-chicken, mashed potato, green beans, coffee and ice cream: $2.65 per serving). Monsignor Charles Lynch, another St. Charles’ vocation and archpriest at the solemn Mass, happily obliged my request to offer a few words during the dinner. After a few anecdotal tales about Catholic life in Woonsocket, Monsignor invoked the concluding words of the sequence for the feast of Pentecost, this coming Sunday’s solemnity. Monsignor quoted: “On the faithful, who adore And confess you ever more In your sevenfold gift, descend; Give them virtue’s sure reward; Give them your salvation, Lord; Give them joys that never end.” Monsignor no doubt had my parents chiefly in mind as God’s primary instruments in fostering my priestly vocation. Yet, in retrospect, all of Catholic parish life in those days was a wellspring of priestly, religious and, yes, marital and lay vocations. Any number of people and practices within the parish made religion integral to daily life.
Church attendance had swelled after the Second World War so, during the 1950s and early 60s, Sunday truly was the Lord’s Day. Businesses were all closed. Little League took place on Saturday morning. Families visited relatives for the noonday meal or took a ride in the country in the afternoon. But Sunday morning definitely meant church. Children knelt by class in the middle aisle when young or sat with families when older. Babies were left at home with a maiden aunt to preserve the hush appropriate to church.
Weekdays, for many, meant Catholic school. At one time, 65 percent of Catholic parishes in Rhode Island boasted a Catholic school. The role of religious women especially but also of religious brothers cannot be underestimated in fostering priestly, religious and active lay vocations in those days. La Salle Academy had a Don Bosco Club which visited the Warwick Neck Seminary every year and even spawned one prelate: Bishop Paul Loverde of Alexandria, Virginia. In mid-century, Catholic pastors tended to spend a lot of time at their desks and older curates were involved with the Holy Name and Rosary/Altar societies. So it was the newly ordained priest who trained the altar boys, supervised the CYO, went camping with the Scouts and tossed bubble gum to the school students on his frequent visits. Barry Fitzgerald’s and Bing Crosby’s roles were not entirely fiction. Father Edward Carr, of happy memory, and a Father Casey, who sadly drowned, assumed these endearing roles in my youth.
In the Holy Year 1950, two women from St. Charles parish called at the house and asked my mother and father to pray the Rosary as a family every day for the Jubilee Year, a request they honored until their dying day. My mother regularly went to daily Mass as did my father after his retirement. Certainly, The Providence Visitor was an informative part of Catholic life in those days. St. Francis de Sales’ “Introduction to a Devout Life,” as well as Thomas Merton’s “Seven Storey Mountain,” and “The Cardinal,” by Henry Morton Robinson as well as booklets about Jesuit martyrs and Franciscan missionaries and Trappist monks were handy at school and home and sometimes even read.
The reader is certainly thinking, “Father, those days are gone!” And indeed they are. As a consequence, vocations to the priesthood, religious life, Catholic married life and lay ministries are even more acutely needed. As the sacred is increasingly overwhelmed by the secular, prayers for fruitful Catholic vocations uttered at home, at religious instructions and at Mass are profoundly needed.