Today, Sunday July 8, Reverend Patrick Lagan who has been a deacon in the Diocese of Derry for the last year and three months will be ordained in his native parish of Maghera to the priesthood. His namesake Bishop Francis Lagan will be the principal concelebrant at the Mass. It is a happy and joyful occasion not only for the parish of Maghera but also for the whole Diocese, writes Fr Michael Canny.
At present the diocese has a further three deacons who are at different stages of their formation and hopefully will be ordained to priesthood in the coming twelve months.
There is a lot of talk in the secular media and indeed among practicing Catholics of a “Vocation crisis”. We seem to be living in the age of crisis. An economic crisis, a euro crisis, a banking crisis, an identity crisis, a vocation crisis, the list goes on.
The “Vocation crisis” is not that there are no vocations to priesthood or religious life today - the real crisis is that vocations to priesthood and religious life are not nurtured and encouraged as well as they could and should be.
Down through the years, and very much at the present time, the challenge of every Catholic community is to build up a “Culture of Vocations”. It should always be remembered that the link between priesthood, the Eucharist and the other sacraments is so intrinsic and essential that the Catholic community should actively encourage young and indeed not so young to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to discern the possibility of vocation to the priesthood.
Popular culture has created an environment that causes young people to think that they will miss out on what normal young people should experience if they pursue the possibility of religious vocation. This can lead those who have thought about vocation to priesthood or religious life to hesitate or avoid the reality that they might have that vocation.
Popular culture has created an environment that causes young people who think about priesthood or religious life to see themselves as strange or oddly different from their peers. A new culture of faith and prayer is needed so that when a person reflects on the possibility of religious vocation they can feel comfortable to discuss it with parents, peers, and others.
At this time in our history there are far fewer young men studying for priesthood than two decades ago. The results are obvious. There are far fewer priests today in our parishes and the age profile is higher. Without a doubt, within ten years, there will be many parishes in our diocese without a resident priest. Many dioceses in European countries are heavily reliant on priests from Africa and India; some people see this as the way forward as Europe undergoes a re-evangelisation. I do not fully share this view.
It is my view that local churches and all the various groups within them need to become places where vocations are born and nurtured. The local church and parish community should also be a place where young men and women are offered wise and strong spiritual development and where the possibility of a vocation to religious life can be discerned and tested with the encouragement and support of the local faith community.
There are many challenges for Christian communities at this time but among the most important is to build up a culture that encourages all people to actively engage in their faith and remain open to how God’s way in calling them. This work needs active participation by all the faithful.