Monday, August 15, 2005
'The Matrix' Gives Boost To Priesthood Vocations

A poster that features a priest wearing sunglasses, a full black cassock, and the traditional Roman collar, attempts to ''get high-school youth to hang a picture of a priest in their room'' and ''answer the call to priesthood.''

'The Matrix' Gives Boost To Priesthood Vocations

Sunglasses, a full black cassock, and the traditional Roman collar adorn Rev. Jonathan Meyer as he poses in imitation of Neo - Keanu Reeves character in the Matrix - on a poster that reads, “The Catholic Priesthood: The answer is out there…and it’s calling you.”

Conceived by Father Meyer himself, who is the associate director of youth and young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the poster attempts to put into context the “spiritual battle” that today’s Catholic seminarians are engaged in.

“Just as Keanu Reeves fought against the powers of evil, a priest comes to help people fight against sin,” said Meyer in an interview with the Catholic News Service. “There is a battle out there.”

“Times are a little different now, and more and more we’re realizing the presence of evil,” Meyer continued. “We’re talking about sin, we’re talking about evil, we’re talking about the powers of darkness.”

“All these films are talking about sin and evil too,” he says. “What we’re doing is taking a pop icon and using it for the good of the church.”

And the good that Meyer and Dioceses across the country are seeing in utilizing the Hollywood characters, which include protagonists from Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, Men in Black, Spider-Man, and Star Wars center around attracting young men to an occupation that has been tarnished by bad press.

“If we can get high-school youth to hang a picture of a priest in their room, that’s huge in helping young men to answer the call to the priesthood,” Meyer said. “Anyone who is a ‘Matrix’ guru looks at the picture and automatically gets it.”

The concept for the new priesthood campaign originally began at the archdiocese’s youth council last fall, where a student jokingly suggested the idea to Father Meyer.

“It was one of those things where everyone laughs and then you move on to the next topic,” says Meyer. “Only after the meeting, I came back to this one.”

After finishing the design within a week with the help of a friend, Meyer gave the poster a test run at Our Lady of the Greenwood church, where he is also associate pastor, resulting in a huge response.

“They were going like hotcakes,” Meyer reports. “Young kids wanted them to hang in their bedrooms, high school students wanted them to hang in their lockers...”

Since then, 1,800 posters have been distributed around the Indianapolis Archdiocese, with an order of 100 recently shipped to California and 300 sent to the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin.

Moreover, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken 5,000 of the posters to be distributed at World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany beginning tomorrow.

In spite of the current wide-spread acceptance of the campaign, however, Rev. Bill Parent, former director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Washington, find the posters to be inadequate in their representation of the priesthood.

“You see these kind of things periodically but I’ve never been a fan,” says Parent. “It might get somebody’s attention, but I think ultimately they don’t do a very effective job of capturing what the priesthood is about.”

Parent, however, doesn’t see the posters as entirely negative.

“I do appreciate what it is trying to tie into, the romantic ideal of the priest as a hero as one who combats evil—I see that as a positive thing,” he said.

Parent finds the idea of a “priestly” hero to be surprisingly accepted in today’s culture, with recent movies such as Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Spider-Man, and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones all embracing concepts such as celibacy and sacrifice.

"The idea that a celibate priesthood could be heroic is alien to our culture, but the Jedi knights were celibate," said Parent. "Most seminarians loved that first 'Spider-Man' movie; the idea he had to make a sacrifice, could not have a relationship with M.J., his girlfriend, because it would put her in danger.”

"At the very height of the scandals, when this whole idea of the priest as sexual predator was at its highest, I found it curious that celibacy was a theme in the two biggest summer movies," he continued. "There's something in our culture that is looking for heroes, for people wanting to make real personal sacrifices for the benefit of other people."

Despite apparent aid from pop-culture, however, the reputation of the Catholic priesthood is still in the red for many.

“Anyone stepping forward to be a priest or nun has to be pretty courageous,” says vocations director Rev. Gerard Francik. “It doesn’t have the esteem it once did…Young people feel they are countercultural to do this.”

One way of encouraging those interested in the priesthood has been through the use of “discernment groups,” which is a system used by vocations director for the Diocese of Arlington, Rev. Brian Bashista, and his twenty-five students.

“This generation does everything in groups,” said Bashista. “Group support gives people a vocation-friendly culture. These are friends who say, ‘You’re not so crazy.’”


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