Some time ago, a bishop met with representatives of Hispanic groups in his diocese. Among the many concerns they shared with the bishop, a couple said, “Bishop, please send us priests who care for us and understand us.” Smiling, the bishop responded, “Of course. Give me your children and I will send them to the seminary to be trained. I cannot have children. Vocations must come from you.”
The intelligent response was not just a way of washing his hands from the matter. This particular bishop has made great efforts to secure the pastoral care of Hispanics in his diocese. Instead, it showed a great truth: if we want Hispanic priests and religious men and women, we must generate them ourselves, in Hispanic families.
It is important to pray for vocations, but it is as important to be open to the possibility of the Lord calling people from our own family. How many times we have prayed for vocations, but deep down have thought: “But not my Juanito, or my Carmelita. They must become doctors, lawyers or engineers, and give me grandchildren.”
The truth is that Hispanic seminarians only account for a 15% of all Seminarians in the United States and the percentage is even smaller in religious community. It would seem that we are losing a sense of vocation to the priesthood or religious life as something desirable for our children as it is necessary for the church.
In an address to the National Association of Hispanic Priests, Bishop Daniel Flores, from the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, recalled the important role of families in generating vocations. The encounter with the love of God comes to us through the family and the Church. Bishop Flores insisted that speaking to a young person about vocation makes no sense unless he or she has received and understood the mind of Christ.
This particular logic of Christ goes through experiencing the beauty of following a way of generosity, commitment and fidelity that must be part of the family experience. It means that the young person needs to grow up in a context by which he is able to understand the language of service and self-giving to others. A context where people can openly speak of forgiveness and listening, and where what is given freely is not the exception, but the norm.