NINETEEN seminarians began their formation for the priesthood in Maynooth last Sunday. This represents an increase of about 50% on last year's intake. Contrary to what was suggested in Rachel Andrews' piece last Sunday, this was not just a case of the Church getting lucky. So what brings these men to Maynooth?
Husbands and wives are not recruited. There is an element of mystery about falling in love and deciding to marry. It is the same with being a priest. All vocation has its roots in a relationship with God, who calls each human being into life. In a consumer culture, the gift of life is often taken for granted.
The challenge for the Church is to lead people to the awareness that life is not an accident, but a gift that has been received from God.
The awareness that life is a gift quite naturally provokes a desire to respond with generosity. People begin to ask, like the young man in the Gospel, "What must I do?"
In 1999, the Dublin Vocations Centre developed the Galilee Programme as a service to young men and women who want to live the Gospel more fully, and to make a life-choice which is rooted in faith. The programme runs from October to April each year. It involves seven Saturdays and one weekend; praying the Gospel together; exploring concrete issues around vocation and commitment; celebrating the Eucharist and sharing a meal. Young people discover that there are others on the same journey as themselves.
They are helped to make decisions in faith and in freedom. Some have entered the seminary or joined religious congregations. Others have embarked on lay ministry, or gone overseas as volunteers.
One response to the gift of life is the decision to offer that life in service as a priest.
The influence of a good priest can be a significant factor in making such a decision. The Dublin Vocations Centre ran a survey in May 2004. To our surprise, we found that 9% of men and women under 25 would seriously consider a vocation to priesthood or religious life if it were suggested to them.
Young people often lack confidence in their own goodness. They need to be asked personally, in a way which encourages them and respects their freedom.
Each diocese in Ireland has a vocations director, whose responsibility is to foster a culture of vocation in the Church, with particular reference to diocesan priesthood. We work very closely together, especially when it comes to the development of resources. We maintain a website at www. vocations. ie.
We publish resource materials each year for Vocations' Sunday. Our poster is sent to every church in Ireland. Last year we published an information booklet called 'Diocesan Priesthood in Ireland:
the Questions People Ask' which has been distributed quite widely.
Vocational accompaniment is the other aspect of vocations ministry. The director of vocations meets regularly over an extended period of time with those who are considering priesthood. (Two of the students who entered Maynooth this year had been meeting with me for over a year. ) The focus during this time of discernment is on helping a man to develop an understanding of priesthood, as well as a deeper self-knowledge, so that he can come to a mature decision. During this time, prospective candidates may also spend a few days with our seminarians in Maynooth, or 'shadow' a priest in a parish.
Many young people who feel drawn to follow Christ don't know how to go about it. Helping people with their prayer is an essential part of our ministry. Readiness to serve others is also fundamental to priesthood. Some of those with whom we meet may already be involved in their parish, or in the care of the sick or the homeless. We would normally encourage others to become involved in some form of ministry, and help them to arrange a placement.
The 19 new arrivals in Maynooth are not there by chance, but due to a combination of God's providence, their own prayerful decision, and good pastoral care.
There are more where they came from.
Fr Kevin Doran is the national coordinator for diocesan vocations