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Pastores Dabo Vobis, no. 34 states, “pastoral work for vocations needs especially today, to be taken up with a new vigor and more decisive commitment … as the synod fathers frequently repeated, it is a connatural and essential dimension of the Church’s pastoral work, of her very life and mission.”

While vocation ministry is a profound privilege, today’s Vocation Directors face several challenges. Whether you minister to those in preliminary discernment, the application process, or the seminary itself, many Vocation Directors recognize the following trends.

1.   Few men were taught how to pray.

In Pastores Dabo Vobis, no. 47, Blessed John Paul II wrote: “the priest will only be able to train others in this school of Jesus at prayer if he himself has been trained in it and continues to receive its formation. … And so the priest needs to be trained to have a deep intimacy with God.” During the application process, as well as in seminary, men need to be taught how to pray. When the basic relational dynamics of prayer are absent so too is the requisite foundation for discernment.

2.   When men struggle in prayer they often struggle in discernment.

In response to a few of the more pressing needs facing the US Bishops, Pope Benedict XVI said, “The discernment of vocations is above all the fruit of an intimate dialogue between the Lord and his disciples. Young people, if they know how to pray, can be trusted to know what to do with God’s call.”

The Holy Father reminds us that prayer is to discernment as food is to cooking. If a man is not praying he is not really discerning. However, as mentioned above, few men, even those who have a fervent desire for God, have learned how to pray as a mature disciple.

3.   Some men make big decisions in spiritual desolation.

In the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, no. 317, we read: “I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule, such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to low and earthly things, disquiet from various agitations and temptations, moving to lack of confidence, without hope, without love, finding oneself totally slothful, tepid, sad and, as if separated from one’s Creator and Lord.”

Spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation are a part of everyone’s spiritual life. Yet, the influence of secular culture, has made many men desire immediate satisfaction and sensory experience. Thus, when the ebb and flow of consolation and desolation affect his felt experience of God, many men struggle to hear God and often assume that this is a “sign” that their discernment is leading them elsewhere.

Saint Ignatius reminds us in the Spiritual Exercises, no. 317, “For just as consolation is contrary to desolation, in the same way the thoughts that come from consolation are contrary to the thoughts that come from desolation.” Therefore, he urges us in the Spiritual Exercises, no. 318 to never make a life-changing decision in a time of spiritual desolation. And yet, how many men abandon the discernment process or seminary formation because of spiritual desolation?

4.   Our spiritual life is affected by our personal history.

The Program for Priestly Formation, 5th edition, no. 82 reminds us: “Human formation is linked to spiritual formation by the Incarnate Word and by the fact that grace builds on nature and perfects nature.”

While there are many causes of spiritual desolation, a man’s personal woundedness can lead to dryness, silence, and heaviness in his spiritual life. In addition, a man’s personal woundedness significantly influences his perception of himself, as well as his perception of God. Many men struggle with a singular sin so much that it soon becomes the only theme of their spiritual life and, thus their measure of whether or not they feel called to priesthood.

5.   Our spiritual life is important; however, seminary life is busy.

In 1980 the Congregation for Catholic Education wrote a circular letter entitled Concerning Some of the More Urgent Aspects of Spiritual Formation in Seminaries. There the Congregation stated: “The future of the church at the present moment depends most of all on the spiritual formation of future priests.”

Seminaries today are better than ever. In fact, the recent increase in enrollment is in some way an indication that seminaries are becoming more and more effective at good priestly formation. However, because of the many expectations placed upon seminary formation programs, a man’s prayer rhythm and spiritual life can be crowded with many other good things to do. Finding the time to focus intensely on his spiritual life is a luxury most seminarians crave, but just don’t have the time for.

Undoubtedly, these and many other difficulties challenge men, and therefore challenge many Vocation Directors. The Institute for Priestly Formation is here to help. Click here to learn more about who we are and how we can help you