Television ads can be thought provoking. I saw one recently where, when asked “what’s on your life’s to-do list?,” a half dozen bright faced adolescents responded with such admirable aspirations as curing cancer, cleaning the environment, eradicating illiteracy, fostering world peace, and so on. I don’t recall what product or service the ad was promoting; but I do remember thinking: “Where’s God in these plans?”
Television commercials, of course, are not created to turn our minds to the Creator. However, for me this one prompted a reflection on the scriptural injunction where loving others is secondary to loving God. How easy it is for us well intending souls to respond to the call to goodness while neglecting the call to holiness.
How common it is for us Catholics – graced as we are with access to the sacraments – to forego so casually the blessings of the sacred in pursuit of the satisfaction of the secular. As a nation, we weren’t always so lukewarm in our relationship with the Deity.
Could one explanation be the decline over the past 50 years in the number of men and women consecrated to the religious life? Like Jeremiah in a recent liturgical reading, these dedicated souls are prophets who, with considerable self-sacrifice, give witness for the rest of us to the supreme role God has in our lives.
It may surprise readers to know that the issue isn’t so much a decline in the number of vocations as it is the ability of those who are called to respond. According to a recently developed statistic, there are in the United States an estimated 10,000 discerners to the priesthood and religious life. But, 42 percent of these are unable to enter formation because of education loans. Most religious institutions block entrance to those burdened with debt. That’s 4,200 “responders” who could have been with us to keep us focused on the eternal verities.
In response to this situation, Cy Laurent 13 years ago established what has become the Laboure Society, (www.labouresociety.org), the purpose of which is to provide financial assistance and spiritual support to individuals who must resolve education loans in order to pursue a vocation to the priesthood and/or religious life in the Catholic Church. For Mr. Laurent, it began with a chance encounter with a young woman who was prevented from joining a religious Order because of the unresolved debt she had incurred as a college student. Because of his generosity, she is now a Carmelite.
Those acquainted with Mr. Laurent and his considerable business experience are not surprised that the Laboure Society has grown into a year-round, professionally staffed service to the Church. With its quickly developing national profile, this non-profit charity has so far assisted almost 300 vocational aspirants by awarding over $4 million for student debt reduction. Impressively, the Society is already approved for inclusion in the Official Directory of the Catholic Church.
I wonder if Mr. Laurent’s middle name is Jeremiah?
Dana Robinson is chair of the board of Trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation.