I heard a story from a friend of mine the other day. Someone said to him, "I know what we can do to stimulate more vocations: the Church needs to change. It needs to allow priests to get married, ordain women, and be more gay friendly." He replied, "The Episcopal Church does all of that, and they have an increasing shortage of laity." His interlocutor responded that the Catholic Church is not the Episcopal Church. He then said, "Let's keep it that way."
I don't believe there can be such a thing as a "vocations shortage." God always calls enough men and women to serve His Church as priests and religious, but today not enough of them are answering that call. Why? In Pope John Paul II's letter on priestly formation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, he diagnoses two causes: cultural disease and ecclesial malaise. For 18, 22, 29, or however many years they've walked the earth, young men have been told that the world is here for them. They are unique consumers defined by what kind and how much of the stuff they buy. Virility is defined by how many women you've slept with. You are only "educated" to the degree you subscribe to rationalistic scientism. Certain strains of feminism demand that we accept that "to be equal" means "to be the same." And above it all, the implicit assumption that "truth" is a quaint medieval notion only held to by right-wing troglodytes. Sacrificial love - the kind modeled by Christ - is an almost foreign concept today.
JPII proposed the solution offered by St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: sacrificial obedience to the Faith. Most of the people who read this blog are surely lay people, and I must tell you that it is part of your mission as a lay person to create a climate of vocations to the priesthood. So I ask you: 1) Would your life in Christ inspire a young man to become a priest? or 2) Would your life in Christ cause a young man to go running into the arms of the culture of death? Think about what all young Catholic men who are considering the priesthood face today: an atmosphere of suspicion because of the sex scandals, parents who want him to find more remunerative work, impurity as a way of life for his friends, and priests and DREs who allow error to contaminate the faith, if not kill it.
Every diocesan event I go to - no matter how big or how small - I always ask at least one young man if he has ever considered being a priest. And you know what? None of them has ever outright said, "No." Even if they did, that doesn't mean they don't have a vocation. Speaking for myself, I definitely said "No way" the first time someone ever suggested the priesthood to me. But you, the laity, are primarily responsible for leavening the culture. And it is part of your unique vocation to live and work in the world to create that culture which encourages priestly vocations. If a seminarian ever stays in your parish, take a moment to encourage him. Believe me, it makes all the difference in the world. And above all, pray a lot.