Corresponds to Question 34 of the survey.
When I was considering what to do with my life as a young adult I had various ideas, some more grounded than others. I wanted to make it big as a rock drummer but my ambition exceeded my chops. (I also had trouble doing fancy stick twirls.). I also had hopes of making big bucks in the business world or in a prestigious career in law. It was in the midst of this search that I began to see that my life was missing something. The options laid out for me just didn’t seem to be fulfilling or meaningful. Sure, such options provided a comfortable income (okay, maybe not the rock drummer option), but would I be happy – truly happy – doing any of these? I began to realize that life meant more than that, that I wanted to do something greater with my life: I wanted to live for someone other than myself.
Often when we think about promoting vocations, we think of the Church adding a “spiritual career option” to the many options available to young people today. We present our promotional vocation efforts as if we want to make sure that young people know that priesthood and religious life are viable career choices. We know we need more priests in our parishes, so we often rack our brains as to how to “sell the priesthood” as an honorable job among many.
I’m not saying that the efforts to portray these vocations as positive choices are not good – they are. But I think vocations promotion in a parish can be so much greater. Our first vocation as Christians is to holiness – to receive the great love that Christ has for us and to return it to Him; to live our lives growing in a relationship with Him, His people, and His Church. In this way, vocations promotion concerns all of us – each and every person. And it concerns not just the question of our specific vocation – to marriage, the consecrated life, the priesthood, or generous single life – but also whether we ourselves have been evangelized so that our love for Christ continues to grow and our response to Him flows out of His generous love for us.
This, to me, is the only way that the specific vocations of the priesthood and consecrated life, or even of marriage, make sense. Why give yourself totally away to another person or to the Church? Why not keep your options indefinitely open? Even further: why give up the beautiful goods of marriage to live a life of celibacy or to consecrate your virginity to God?
Why? Because we were made for love. Radical love. A love that gives itself totally and to the end – as Christ has loved us. This is the only way that we will ever find the happiness we seek or rest for our restless hearts.
Vocations only make sense when we encounter Christ – the incarnation of the Father’s love for us. St. John Paul II said that “The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light… [Christ] fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear… [man] cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”
So instead of putting our efforts into promoting vocations as spiritual career options, we need to begin to see vocations promotion as integral to the work of evangelization- as a way of providing opportunities in our parishes for our young people to encounter Christ and fall in love with Him. In order to do this, I’d like to propose a simple plan for your parish’s vocations efforts:
Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s great love to you, your family (especially your children), and the people in your parish and, for the courage to follow this Love to the end. Have organized and regular prayer efforts for vocations (e.g. Holy Hours, rosaries, Mass petitions, etc.). Jesus had one “Vocations promotion plan”: ask the Master of the harvest to send laborers. He wanted us to pray for vocations!
Build a culture of invitation, discernment, and encouragement for vocations to priesthood and to consecrated life. Our catechetical programs, religious education, schools, and youth & young adult ministries, need to be suffused with a focus on the connection between discipleship and vocation. Also, don’t be afraid to actively identify and build up strong leaders who may have the gifts to be our future priests, pastors, and religious. Establish a Vocations Committee to help your pastor organize all of these efforts. Check out these free resources the Archdiocese subscribes to for parishes and schools (access Code: BaltimoreVocations320). Also know that the Office of Vocations is always available to assist you.
Form relationships with the young men and women of your parish and accompany them on their journey of faith even as you seek to grow in your own. Connect them with good and holy priests and religious so that they can see the joyful witness of these men and women. It is important that they know that they are not alone and are supported by many others. The most recent CARA report on the priestly ordination class of 2016 indicated an average of four people encouraged them in their vocation: 70% were encouraged by a parish priest, 48% by friends, 46% by parishioners, and 42% by mothers.
Any Vocations program that you run should encompass these three aspects and, above all, it should encourage and inspire a deeper encounter with Christ. It is only through this that all our vocations efforts and programs are meaningful. So whether you are one of the 66% of the survey respondents who said your parish is promoting vocations or if you are part of the 26% who didn’t know or 8% who said your parish was not, you can begin to foster a culture of vocations in your families and parishes. Christ is asking for it and it’s not that difficult!
Do your parish’s vocations promotion efforts make it clear that the call to discern and embrace a particular vocation is inseparable from the universal call of all baptized Catholics to discipleship and holiness?
When was the last time you personally encouraged a young person to think and pray about becoming a priest or religious?