One thing that I’ve heard from several people when I mention the surge in Dominican vocations (and the surge of many dioceses and orders male and female) is “Oh, it must be the recession.” Truly, I have not met one religious who set aside marital joys, self-determination, and wealth because he or she couldn’t find a job.The man who sets aside his personal dreams to more perfectly subject himself to God is not primarily saying “no” to the world, but saying “yes” to a renewed life with God.
I am a Dominican brother of the Province of St. Joseph studying for the priesthood in Washington DC. After the ordination of eight of our brothers, there are over fifty of us studying for the priesthood or preparing to live life as a consecrated brother, about to be joined by fifteen more on July 25.
Among those roughly 75 men are lawyers, a medical doctor, a congressional staffer, professional musicians, a radio host, several PhDs and professors, a particle physicist from Stanford, a former Google employee, a dean of admissions at a medical school, Ivy Leaguers, Golden Domers, and more who were successful in the world, but sought a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church, and desired to serve his people.
In just a few days, another gainfully employed man will leave his nets behind to follow the Lord in the way of St. Dominic, assistant editor J. David Nolan, who has been working here at First Things since 2013.
Writing for Fare Forward last year, Nolan wrote,
Monasticism looks insane to anyone committed to a material rendition of rational choice theory, but as St. Paul writes, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Religious life reminds us that any discussion of balance makes sense only when there is an explicit pivot point. And it teaches us that, in order to be perfect, we cannot divide and conquer—we have to throw all our eggs in one basket and hope they hatch on Easter. This is a lesson that the laity and the world at large have wavered on and need to relearn. It is a lesson that consecrated religious are uniquely qualified to teach.
People don’t leave all the “important” things of life because they can’t handle it or because the chips are down. Rather, men or women join religious life because they have perceived the call from One who transcends all earthly things to serve him, and through him, his people. And like the three men who saw the Lord lying in a manger, they can never return the way they came, even if they discover that religious life is not what God has planned for them in their lives.
If there is a worldly cause for the rising numbers of religious vocations, it is the realization that the world today (and in every age) cannot provide the invisible riches that come only from the love of God—a love beyond all understanding.
Dominic Bouck, O.P., is a Dominican brother of the Province of St. Joseph and a summer intern at First Things.