We can’t just passively wait

On July 30 more than 70 people gathered from several parishes to brainstorm about vocations. The need to be proactive has never been more urgent as we face the years ahead when the retirement of priests and religious will far outstrip the influx of newly-minted servants. While the obvious focus of the meeting was on nurturing more men for ordained ministry and women religious, the approach of a vocation committee must be much broader, and definitely not an entity that is separate from the everyday life of the parish.

Every baptized individual is called by God to serve in the Kingdom. Though this may sound like a clichéd statement from Sacramental theory, it is absolutely the most essential truth for every person. The root of vocation lies in a call from God, not to a life of resigned commitment but to a path toward one’s greatest love. This is why former Jesuit superior general Pedro Arrupé, in his beautiful reflection “Fall in Love,” describes the call of vocation as an act of love. 

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love, in a quite absolute, final way.

“What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.

“It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. 

“Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

If parishes want to be proactive about vocations they need to become the village matchmaker between God and God’s people. It means thinking outside of the vocation box, looking not just toward pious young people with “vocation potential.” Rather than limit vocation to an ecclesial profession, we must constantly help people to discern their gifts are so that they can be used where God needs them the most. 

Sherry Weddell in “Forming Intentional Disciples,” describes vocation as a “supernatural mystery that emerges from a sustained encounter with Christ.” No matter what profession or line of work one has entered, God calls us into a relationship that transforms us and prepares us to change the world. Had we met Simon the fisherman before he met Jesus we would not have recognized the Peter he became. The whole parish is responsible for providing an environment for nurturing a relationship with Christ for all its members, not just the ones who look like good priest or nun material. 

Sherry Weddell relates the stories of parishes that have produced remarkable numbers of vocations in the past 10 years. These parishes developed a culture of encounter with Christ that grew out of their commitment to offering retreats, Scripture sharing, and other opportunities for conversion. Vocations became a by-product of discipleship, and the vocation committee provided a safe place for some to explore the possibility of ordained and religious life in a safe environment away from the pressure of family and friends.

There are many times in our lives when we seek discernment for an important decision, but no better time than the threshold moments when we pass from one significant stage to another. There is no magic age for this to happen, but the moments arise naturally when we move through the stages of life. There are many threshold people who would be open to an invitation to discipleship: youth preparing to leave home for work or school; engaged couples and the newly-married as they start their lives together; young adult singles who are settling into their professions but still trying to discern their path in life.

There is no question that the Church needs to grow more vocations, but this is the work of the Holy Spirit. But we have learned from our own history that the needs of the Church will be met. As Sherry Weddell explains, “If we focus on making disciples, the rest will follow. We won’t have to worry about the institutional gaps. The disciples we form today will found and sustain our institutions and structures tomorrow.” 

We don’t know what marvelous Church the Holy Spirit is going to create for us, but we cannot sit back and passively wait. The mission of every parish is to evangelize, and this happens wherever people gather. These nascent vocation committees will enhance the work of evangelization that underlies all of the catechetical programs for youth and opportunities for adult Faith Formation. Evangelization and catechesis can now have a discernment partner to help usher the threshold people onto the path that God has planned for them.

Anchor columnist Claire McManus is the director of the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation. 

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