Fr Edmond Cullinan of Waterford Cathedral was recently asked why he thought vocations to the priesthood would increase over the next ten or twenty years. He addressed that issue in the wider context of the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
The Lessons of History
The First reason for hope is theological. God is always doing something new. He is Lord of all of time. The Bible shows us how God was at work in the history of Israel, turning the situation around after each disaster. God continues to watch over Ireland.
The second reason is historical. The Catholic Church has been present in Ireland for sixteen centuries. Over that time it has gone through periods of decline and renewal. An example of a period of renewal is the Twelfth Century Reform. This followed a period of near collapse. Church offices had become the property of powerful families; religious life had become lax and uninspiring; worship had become irregular. Then, with the leadership of St. Malachy and others, the Irish Church managed to get back on track. The present system of Dioceses and Provinces was set up; new religious orders were invited to the country and liturgy was reformed. The momentum for all this came from within.
The Search for Spirituality and Meaning
The third reason for confidence might be termed psychological. The hungers of the human heart are not satisfied by a purely materialistic culture. The New Age phenomenon is evidence of that. The search for spirituality shows that people are looking for something deeper. Our own tradition of Catholic spirituality is, for most people, an undiscovered source of great riches.
A fourth reason for confidence in the future could be called philosophical. Human beings have always searched for meaning. The question of the meaning of life is the basic question that will just not go away. Science can answer ‘how’ questions but it cannot answer ‘why’ questions- Why do we exist? Why do we experience right and wrong? The upcoming generation is likely to discover that our own tradition has the most coherent answers to these important questions.
Vocations in the Future
We can remain hopeful of a renewal of Church life in the years ahead. The specific contribution of the ministry of the ordained priest will come to be appreciated in a new way.