Father Paul Stuart is the new Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Melbourne. He has also been appointed Dean of Students at Corpus Christ Seminary after completing a Licence in Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He was ordained in 1992.
The best advertisement for marriage could only be a happily married couple. For the priesthood, you could not outdo a good pastor. The religious orders that are thriving are surely those with contented and purposeful nuns and brothers, who are visible and radical signs of prayer, community and holy activity.
When I was a young member of a parish in Melbourne, my parish priest was Father Michael Morgan, who was then assisted by Father John Salvano, Sister Marie Doily RSC and a resident seminarian, Greg Pritchard, who went on to be ordained a priest.
In their own positive and cheerful ways they presented Christian ministry and service to me as a vocation and a way of life. Not by verbally encouraging me to think about becoming a priest necessarily, but by their example, both in their work and also by their happiness in their work. They were all builders and not destroyers, affirmers and not critics, doers and not talkers.
No zippy advertisement or poster, commercial or promotional campaign could better them and others like them in exhibiting the value and worth of Holy Orders or religious life.
I could write at length, too, about the legion of married couples whose marriages, despite hardships and struggles, like that of my own parents, give witness to the joy and satisfaction of holy matrimony and parenthood. They live as a contradiction and a challenge to the permissive, promiscuous, anti-life and dehumanised world that largely surrounds them and our families. Single Catholics also provide a great example to other singles when their talents and time are channelled into the work of the Church and her parishes.
When it comes to following and serving Jesus Christ, fulfilling a Christian vocation or ministry and being a living sign and witness of the Gospel, we can take two paths - one tried and tested since time immemorial and mostly fruitful, or the other which has always ultimately failed despite its periodic popularity at different times in the Church's 2,000 years.
The latter path is the attempt by Catholics - clergy, religious and laity - to "blend in" to the world, to avoid at great cost any real or apparent differences that the Christian life may hold in comparison to the secular. This blending in or avoidance can find expression in mental attitudes, language, terminology, dress and not least in religious and moral beliefs.
For many of them, God is in all things, and is to be reached through all and any philosophical or spiritual roads that might take one's fancy. Christ and his Church is but one route. And even when the Catholic pathway is chosen, some censor Christ's sayings and teachings, and dilute or even dismiss his Church's doctrines and morals. This is done to suit their personal palate or to avoid the "liberal" world's harsh gaze and judgement, which professes compassion, tolerance and justice, except towards those who hold true to Christ and the Catholic Church. They believe in everything to the point where they believe in nothing.
Their recent high point was the Age of Aquarius during the 1960s and the hangover is only just abating on the threshold of the new millennium. A new generation has succeeded them, and although it has been dominated, influenced and at times damaged by them, the new generation has not followed them.
Young people today are not alienated from the Church because they are necessarily as angry and as opposed to her as many of their elders, but because they simply do not know her. Even thirteen years in the Catholic education system can leave an eighteen-year-old Catholic grossly ignorant of his or her faith and moral tradition. Gratefully acknowledged are the many parents and teachers - clergy, religious and laity - who have not gone down this path or been led down it.
The first path, however, leads the Catholic in a radically different way. It is a path walked by the apostles, saints, martyrs and Christian heroes, famous and unknown, for 2,000 years. It has demanded sacrifice and labour. It has brought derision, ridicule, persecution and even death. It is a path that Christ took and spoke of, and it ends with a narrow gate, but what it opens to is something to behold!
Bishops, priests, religious communities and men and women who take this path and call others to it inevitably attract high-spirited, enthusiastic and idealistic youth. I have seen them do so in Europe, the United States and to a lesser extent here in Australia.
Dioceses, religious orders, religious movements and prayer groups that attract and keep vocations and members do not have new methods, new courses, new discoveries, a new magic formula or a new Church. They have old but radical ones, and they have been at the service of the Holy Spirit for millennia. See them, if you will, in the lives and initiatives of the great founders of the religious congregations and Catholic associations, old and new.
I have great hope in the springtime that Pope John Paul II is shepherding us towards. The youth, in varying momentum around the world, are responding to the call to holiness and Christian service. As useful and beneficial as clever vocational advertisements and promotions are, nothing will beat or replace the example of Christ himself and those who imitate him in their lives, in their priesthood, marriage, family, work and vocation.
Promote Christ and you promote vocations - he is the priest, spouse and servant exemplar.
Promote prayer, penance, Eucharistic and Marian devotion, fidelity and unity on matters of faith and morality, Christian service, and you sow seeds in the vineyard that not even the weeds of the culture of death, the sceptics, the cynics and the evil-doers can strangle.