'Consider Your Calling'
By Cardinal Roger M. Mahony
To the People of God of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles:
What would your reaction be if on some Sunday you arrived at your Parish
Church for Mass, and found a sign on the door that read: "There will
not be a 9:30 a.m. Mass today in our parish since we have no Priest to
offer the Mass"? That day has arrived for many Arch/Dioceses across the
country, and it appears to be rapidly approaching for us as well.
This coming July, 22 parishes will need new pastors (11 pastors are
retiring, four are not taking another pastorate: net loss of 15
pastors). But we are only ordaining five new Priests this year. Where
will we find 22 new pastors? Where will we find new associate pastors to
take the places of those associates being appointed administrators or
pastors in July? I use the expression "we" since this is our collective
challenge, not just mine as your Archbishop.
The accompanying chart demonstrates most vividly the very serious
shortage of Priests that we are facing. Assuming that all of our Priests
will be able to serve until age 75 (a most generous assumption that
does not take into account health problems or other disabilities), and
knowing that we have 289 active parishes, between the years 2011 and
2015 we will actually have fewer Priests than we have parishes. It is
also likely that we will ordain only four new Priests a year. It would
be so helpful if we could exceed this number, but we cannot count on
We are blessed to have Religious Community Priests staffing 69 parishes,
but the Religious themselves are facing the same shortages as we are,
and many will simply be unable to continue their commitments in the
Archdiocese in future years.
Unlike Arch/Dioceses in the mid-West and East, we do not have "surplus
parishes" without parishioners. We actually have the opposite challenge:
a great many of our Churches are already too small to accommodate the
numbers of Catholics participating in Sunday Eucharist.
The fact is that the Catholic population of our Archdiocese continues to
grow year after year, and we will need to open new parishes in the
coming years in the Santa Clarita Valley, the Antelope Valley, and very
likely in the northern part of the Archdiocese.
Our recent Archdiocesan Synod called all of us to be open to the Holy
Spirit and to move where the Spirit is leading us. We have begun to
respond by supporting the development of Pastoral Associates and Parish
Life Directors. We will surely need to collaborate more fully among
parish communities, to share all our resources in creative ways, and to
make certain that our Eucharistic Church continues forward with vigor
and confidence. To do so, we need more priests to make certain that the
Eucharist is celebrated on Sundays with the full, active, and conscious
participation of the People of God.
Consequently, every Catholic in our Archdiocese must realize that he or
she is, in a genuine sense, a "vocation promoter." There are several
things that all of us can readily do to promote vocations to the
Priesthood, the Diaconate and Religious Life, and I invite you to become
engaged in helping to meet our challenge. Some suggestions:
-Parishioners need to talk among themselves - both informally and at
various parish gatherings - about this looming shortage, and take
responsibility for making certain that the Eucharist and the Sacraments
can be celebrated in the future to sustain our Catholic spiritual life.
Communion Services are an inadequate substitute for the full celebration
of the Eucharist in our parishes.
-All of us can pray for an increase in vocations to the Priesthood and
Religious Life: "Jesus said to them, 'The harvest is abundant but the
laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers
for his harvest'" (Luke 10:2
Special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament would be a most appropriate
means to pray for more vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life.
-All of us can be alert to young men and women in our parishes whom we
believe have those qualities and gifts to serve the Church as Priests
and Religious. We need to speak to them, to ask them if they think God
might be calling them to give their lives in service as Priest or
Religious. I have found that many young people are thinking about this
possibility, but no one ever suggests it or invites them.
-We need to pray for, support and encourage the Priests and Religious
who serve us in our parishes with such evident dedication and energy,
especially since they are fewer in number and individually carry so many
more pastoral responsibilities than ever before. The best affirmation
of our Priests and Religious is through generous collaboration in the
ministry and responsibility of the Church and of the parish.
-Parents need to be generous in encouraging their own sons and daughters
to consider whether God is calling them to serve Christ and His Church
in this way. The affirmation of parents to the early seeds of a vocation
to the Priesthood or Religious Life is so crucial.
You and I bear a mutual responsibility for the Local Church of Los
Angeles, this portion of the Lord's Vineyard. As the Synod process
taught us all, we move forward as members of the Body of Christ
together, not alone or in isolation. Let us keep alive the hope
engendered by the Synod as we pray together for an increase in
Good and gracious God,
you have called us through Baptism
to discipleship with your Son, Jesus Christ,
and have sent us to bring the Good News of
Salvation to all peoples.
We pray you to grant us more Priests and Religious
to build up your Church here within the
Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Inspire our young men and women by the example of
Blessed Junípero Serra to give themselves totally
to the work of Christ and His Church.
We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.