Taught, Sold, or Chosen2
November 24, 2012 by lucieromarin
There are two ways (other than prayer!) by which to combat a widespread vocations crisis. One is education. The other is marketing. Understanding your place in the roadkill ditch becomes easier once you realise that you’ve experienced both.
The essence of marketing is to make people want something by making them feel bad about not having it. Sound familiar?
Man to Spiritual Director: Father, I’m kind of thinking about the priesthood, but I’m not sure. What should I do?
Spiritual Director: Well, for a start, here’s a good book on the subject. Read it and we’ll meet again in two weeks. Also, I want you to identify your predominant fault, and we’ll take a look at how to combat it. And we’ll talk about prayer.
A woman steps into a lift at the Archdiocesan Headquarters, and her eyes turn to a little screen which displays a weather report, then a cricket report, then an ad for coffee, and then the words, ‘Have you thought about getting married and having some children?’
(I am not joking. I really saw this, and I hope that no one suffering from a broken engagement, a divorce or a miscarriage ever saw it.)
Now, here’s a great big mishmash of education and marketing:
Celebrity priest! is coming to town. He’s going to give a big vocations talk and anyone who’s anyone is going, which is why you’ve been given multiple copies of the same glossy flyer from different persons who want to make sure you go to hear him, because he’s, like, the most awesome thing ever, and he makes you feel like it’s cool to be religious because he’s cool. Well, you go, and celebrity priest! gives a rousing talk, in which a bit of useful catechesis and some thoughtful insights are packaged in a great big shiny package of Cool, so that all the boys leave wondering how they can explain this stuff to the Protestants at uni, and all the girls leave thinking, “Oh, my gosh, I really, really, really, really have to get married soon.” They feel an urgency that they didn’t feel at the beginning of the talk, but it has little or nothing to do with God and everything to do with the sensation that the talk has generated in them, which convinces them that without this thing, they are nothing.
We have to understand that a lot of what’s offered as vocations education is, in fact, only marketing. It’s vocation being branded as The Thing Without Which You Are Not – (saving the Church, or obeying God, or becoming a saint, or as cool as celebrity priest! or whatever) and I’m pretty sure that if you make a list of all the reasons you feel bad about not being in one, you’ll find that most of those reasons relate to how vocation was sold to you, and not to anything you’ve read in the Summa. Obviously there’s some cross-over – and I’m not suggesting that there’s no real pain in there, either. What I am suggesting is that a portion of that pain is sales-induced. Magazines can make women feel bad about God-given body-sizes they would never have thought twice about, had they not been continually bombarded with images of a supposed ideal. Both men and women can feel about a God-given state of life as they would never have felt, had they not been bombarded with messages selling something else.
Hello—I found your blog though your very generous link to mine. Many thanks for that, and for your prayers.
I’ve often wrestled with some of the same issues you bring up here.
On the one hand, I think that—outside of super-duper-ultra-conservative or traditional Catholic circles—some level of “marketing” might be necessary. Since so much of mainstream secular culture is aimed at ridiculing Catholic values or making the Church seem irrelevant, there are probably a lot of young people out there who have never considered a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life simply because they have never seen it presented anywhere as an even remotely attractive option.
But on the other hand, priestly or consecrated life is of course not actually about being “cool.” And, it says countless times in Scripture that if we really live our faith, then society at large will probably hate us for it! So while I don’t think anyone seriously expects a single vocations talk/website/glossy flyer to convey the full truth of everything there is to know about a particular way of life, I still wonder if some vocational marketing campaigns might not be suffering from a little bit of whatever the theological equivalent to cognitive dissonance is.
Sometimes I’m also concerned that vocational marketing might make it seem like you have to be cool in order to serve God, which might lead young Catholics (from all states of life) either to focus on being cool to the point of being distracted from growing in prayer and in real Christian virtues, or else to a sense of discouragement.
(Although, for the sake of full disclosure: I have good reason to believe that I’m somewhat challenged in the “coolness” department myself!)
However, in any case, I’m quite sure that at least the one particular marriage “advertisement” you described sounds like a pastoral disaster waiting to happen.
Thank you for these thoughts! (I’m a longtime follower of your blog.) Yes, it’s definitely difficult for people to know what their options are if no one ever tells them, and to that end a certain amount of ‘getting the message out’ is necessary, and so, as you point out, is counterbalancing those aspects of mainstream secular culture that ridicule vocation – especially any vocation that involves lifelong virginity. I think the problem begins when the persons charged with the difficult task of vocations promotion seem to think along the lines of ‘Young people like things to be cool. If we present this as cool they will like it.’