CARA has a challenging graph for us all. It seems that US Catholic chutch is about to drop below an average of 1 active diocesan priest per parish. As Mark Grey, CARA's senior researcher, has pointed out before, it takes an average of about 1.8 active diocesan priests per parish to ensure that every parish has a resident pastor.
Why active? Because about 30% of diocesan priests are retired, sick, or otherwise inactive. What about religious priests? Well, only about an quarter or religious priests are involved in parish work. Typically, religious communities of priests have many other focuses and institutions to maintain.
Mark Grey at CARA estimates that in 23 years (2035), there will be over 7,000 American Catholics for every active diocesan priest. A ratio that large parts of the non-western Catholic world have dealt with for many years - for centuries - but which Americans will find unthinkable.
Here's the punch line that you knew was coming: if you want priestly and religious vocations, make disciples.
One of the disciple-making parishes that I describe in my book
has fostered the vocations of 1 bishop, and nearly 30 priests who now serve in 5 religous communities and 4 dioceses. 20 seminarians from the parish are in formation right now as are 9 women in various religious communities. This is a parish who has the strongest communal culture of discipleship of any parish I've ever known - and I've worked in over 300 so far. How about 98% Mass attendance? Check. Extraordinary giving? Check. Creative lay apostles who undertake amazing apostolates of all kinds? Check. A parish where Confirmation isn't just Catholic "graduation"? Check.
Everything changes when you intentionally set out to make disciples of the baptized. Because the graces of the sacraments and the power of the Holy Spirit is released in the lives of individuals and therefore, into the life of the larger community.