I will, in this blog article attempt to answer the questions posed above from the point of view of a 'traditionally' minded seminarian. Maybe I should start with my background, or at least a brief over-view.
I'm now 23 years old and can categorically state that I was first interested in the idea of 'priesthood' at the age of 8. I had received my First Holy Communion and immediately began serving at the altar every Sunday (the 9am - much to my mothers annoyance). One Sunday I remember looking up at the priest during the Eucharist Prayer and thinking "I'd love to do what he's doing..." - I felt so strongly about this that at a time when my peers were running around pretending to be astronauts, policemen, premiership footballers etc... I was conducting 'wedding' services...
As I went to Secondary School and religion became 'less cool' I fell away from regular practice of the Faith - attending Mass once a year. Then, in my final year of Secondary School (2005) a monumental event happened. I remember sitting downstairs vegetating in front of the television when my brother came bounding down the stairs with the news that no-one really wanted to hear, but the news we were all expecting: "The Pope is dead" he said "the Pope is dead..." Straight to the news channel to see if the news was true and indeed it was John Paul II had died. I remember the feeling of sadness yet at the same time joy, a joy in knowing that this great man was no longer suffering.
I came back. It would be a while before I went back to Mass, but I was sure I believed and what is more I felt a calling to the priesthood again. This time it came and smacked me in the face. I wrote to Archbishop Smith, the then Archbishop of Cardiff, detailing my life up until that point and the events of the 2nd April 2005 - we met and he appointed a Spiritual Director who encouraged me to return to Mass at the next available opportunity. I did, and having been to confession was able to receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament (I refused to do so when I went to Midnight Mass once a year - "I haven't been to confession" - I'd say...)
I searched and searched for what the Lord wanted me to do; Dominicans, Benedictines even the Franciscans - eventually (and again it was a 'smack in the face' moment) I decided to apply to the Archdiocese of Cardiff - this was in September 2010 - at the Vigil in Hyde Park, the day before the Beatification of Blessed John Henry Newman. I'll write more about this at a later date.
Now that I've given you a not-so-brief overview of my vocation story - so far - I'd like to turn to the main topic of this blog. What is it that is drawing the young people in?
I think it could easily be summed up in three main points (believe me, these are not my own, a priest mentioned them recently - I'm stealing them for the sake of a blog post): (1) A sense of identity. (2) The Eucharist. (3) Magisterium.
A sense of identity.
This past weekend an event was held in St Mary's College, Oscott, called 'Invocation' - It is an event for young/some-not-so-young Catholics to attend who feel they may be being called to some service in the vineyard of the Lord - essentially it is a discernment event.
An idea was presented recently that those Orders or Movements that do well out of initiatives like Invocation are those that: (1) have a distinct character or habit. (2) have a strong Eucharistic devotion. (3) are loyal to the Magisterium. And of course, it is right. How many young religious do you know? Which order(s) do they belong to? I know a couple and they belong to the Benedictines, the Franciscan (Friars/Sisters of the Immaculate and Renewal) and Dominicans - why? Because of what has been pointed out. They are living witnesses to the world both in the way they live their lives and how they dress. The distinctive Dominican habit can be seen in Oxford and Cambridge, the Franciscan habit can be seen in London, Stock-on-Trent and elsewhere - the Benedictine habit at the monastery or school of learning.
It is this sense of 'belonging' which draws the young people in -whether the young people stay or not - they are still drawn in by that act of witness.
Without the Eucharist we are nothing - simple. It is in the Eucharist that we encounter God, it is the most intimate encounter with the God who sacrificed himself for us. And it is through this encounter with God that we come to know what His will is for us.
The young people of today are thirsting for the God who loves them. And where do they encounter him - how many parish churches have regular adoration, compared with how much time religious devote to Eucharistic Adoration?
Fr. Benedict CFR once commented that there was a diocese in America with no vocations, once the bishop ordered that every parish have at least an hour of adoration every day/week the number of vocations surged - it isn't rocket science! Where else are people meant to discern their vocation apart from on their knees before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament?!
Added to this are the amount of young people who attended the Vigil in Hyde Park. Now yes, you can argue "the Pope was there" - if all they wanted to do was see the pope, they could lined the streets. No, they chose to go to Hyde Park and kneel with the Successor of St Peter before Our Lord - it was a very special moment for me and no doubt for many other people.
Fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church is a 'big one' - we, young Catholics, like the Pope. We loved Blessed John Paul II and we also love Benedict XVI. Am I saying that there are some priests who aren't faithful to the Magisterium? Well, there are some priests who openly criticise the Holy Father - is that conducive to fostering vocations? I'm guessing not!
The young people of today need faithful pastors to guide them, faithful pastors who adhere to all Church teaching. And it is something that the young people find in religious communities. Fact.
So, what am I saying? Are religious communities any better than diocesan parishes? No, of course not. But to encourage a true 'culture' of vocation one has to abide by what I've written (in my opinion anyway, I'm speaking as a first year seminarian). Faithful priests and religious, unashamed to wear clerical dress or their habit in public, who have a deep love for Our Lord and His blessed Mother and who abide by the precepts of the Church - it is these men and women who encourage and foster vocations. Let us pray for more priests and religious like this.
I hope this wasn't too much of a rant!
I entrust you all to the Blessed Mother of Our Saviour.
Nuestra Senora Vulnerate - Ruega por Nosotros