Recently, someone used the concept of ecosystem to connect the simultaneous celebration of Earth Day and World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Part of me thought “Huh?” Yet, another part me thought what an apt analogy. My mind went immediately Fr. Tomas Mavric and Pope Francis’ frequent calls to develop a culture of vocations. Vocations flourish when all part of the system are interconnected
Within any given area, living and nonliving interact with each other. Together, these things form an ecosystem. Because all of the elements within an ecosystem are interrelated, these systems can be quite complex. All ecosystems must maintain a delicate balance between all of their members in order to thrive. Human interference and extreme natural events can tip this balance and threaten an ecosystem’s health.
I never thought of a culture of vocations in terms of an ecosystem. But St. Paul did long before the words “ecology” and “ecosystems” entered our vocabularies. Recall his concept of the “body of Christ.”1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and how parts are interconnected and at the service of each other. He writes to say that all parts of the system have contributions for the good of the whole.
Bad News and Good News
Compared to 50 years ago, we have 10,000 fewer priests and 140,000 fewer religious brothers and sisters — while the number of Catholics has grown by some 22 million. Within the Vincentian Family, especially in many well-developed countries, we are aware of the”greying” of many branches of the family. When I entered the Eastern Province of Congregation of the Mission over sixty years ago we were upwards of 400. Today we hover around the 100 mark.
Discouraging? Yes. But, there is good news! The Vincentian Family is growing by leaps and bounds.
The staff of the Vincentian Family Office has dedicated much of this year to identifying and connecting the followers of Vincent and Louise around the world. It initially began as the first stage in fostering collaboration among the more than two million people around the world who identify in some degree with the Vincentian Family way of life dedicated to serving the forgotten and the marginalized.
As they return from their travels to each continent they report with amazement the discovery not only the vitality of the family but the existence of new groups that they had no idea existed.
The Difference Between Good and Bad News?
By definition, it is impossible to look at a systemic problem and assess all blame on one part. Yet part of a systemic approach requires an understanding of the various parts.
It has frequently been observed that vocations seem to thrive most in areas of the world where the Church and religious organizations are closely aligned with those who exist on the margins. This frequently the case in less wealthy nations.
“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
Might this be another dimension of Pope Francis’ dream of the Church as a Church that is of the poor and for the poor in spirit? A Church where all are truly welcome. A Church where Matthew 25 is lived.
Might this be another way of looking at the promotion of a culture of vocations? Do we recognize the mutuality of gifts and needs? “No one is so rich that he or she cannot receive. And no one is so poor that he or she can not give.”
- Can vocations flourish in deeply polarised abd unequal situations?
- How can we foster a greater awareness of each person’s gift?
- Do we ourselves recognize our own interconnectedness with the least among us?