Helping vocations develop

Back on March 3, while preaching on the Gospel of the rich young man, who turned away when Jesus invited him to give away all his belongings and follow Him, Pope Francis spoke about vocations. “When we ask the Lord to send vocations to proclaim the Gospel, He sends them.”

The pope then raised a common, pessimistic complaint, that many people object to him, “Father, things in the world are going so badly: there are no vocations to be a Sister, there are no priestly vocations, we are going to end in ruin!”

To that the Holy Father responded, “There are many vocations.” That being so, he then posed the question, “Why do we need to ask the Lord to send them?” And he responded to himself, “We need to pray that the hearts of these young people might be emptied: emptied of other interests, emptied of other loves, that their hearts might become free.” This, the pope said, is the true “prayer for vocations: Lord, send us Sisters, send us priests; defend them from the idolatry of vanity, from the idolatry of pride, from the idolatry of power, from the idolatry of money. Our prayer helps to prepare their hearts to closely follow the Lord.”

The pope noted that many of today’s youth are similar to the rich young man from the Gospel and he asked: “What do we do for them?” Firstly, he said, we need to pray: “Lord, help these young people to be free and not to be slaves” so that “they might have a heart only for You.” In this way, he said, “the call of the Lord can come and bear fruit.”

On June 28, the Holy Father met with young people from the Diocese of Rome who are involved in vocational discernment (in other words, they are actively praying and thinking about what God wants them to do with their lives). He reminded them that any Catholic who is trying make that decision according to God’s will needs to have a relationship with the Blessed Mother. “She accompanies us also in making this definitive choice, the choice of a vocation, because she accompanied her Son on His vocational path, which was so difficult, so painful. She accompanies us always.

“When a Christian tells me that it’s not that he doesn’t love Our Lady, it is just that he does not seek out Our Lady or pray to Our Lady, I feel sad. I remember one time, almost 40 years ago, when I was at a conference in Belgium, there was a couple who were catechists, both university professors with children, a beautiful family. And they spoke about Jesus Christ so well. At one point I said, ‘And devotion to Our Lady?’”

They responded to the future pope, “But we have passed that stage. We know Jesus Christ so well, that we have no need of Our Lady.” 

He then reported his interior reaction. “And what came to mind and into my heart was ‘Oh, you poor orphans!’ Am I not right? Because a Christian without Our Lady is an orphan. Even a Christian without the Church is an orphan. A Christian needs these two women, two women who are mothers and virgins: the Church and Our Lady. And the ‘test’ of a good Christian vocation is to ask yourself: ‘How is my relationship with these two mothers going?’ with mother Church and with Mother Mary. This is not a question of ‘piety,’ no, it’s pure theology. This is theology. How is my relationship with the Church going, with my mother the Church, with the Holy Mother, the hierarchical Church? And how is my relationship going with Our Lady, who is my mum, my mother?”

Without a relationship with these two women, our vocations (whatever they are) will be inauthentic. We need to have a prayerful relationship with Mary, who will help us imitate her “yes” to God’s plan throughout her life, so that we, too, can be faithful servants of the Lord. We need to be authentic members of the Church, loving her in all her members, including the hierarchy, as the pope reminded his youthful listeners. It is not only just up to us to decide whether we have a clerical or religious vocation; the Church also has to discern whether we have that vocation, how it should be fostered and developed (and this is true before and after ordination or final religious vows). 

Mother Church nourishes vocations through the prayers and sacrifices that her members make so that vocations flourish. We will only know when we are with God in Heaven how a Rosary offered one day or a fast on another helped someone else respond to God’s call. Only then will we know how our good example, how our kindness to someone at the door of the church or in the Sacristy before Mass or out in the parking lot afterwards helped this other person say yes to God. So, just as we are called to be faithful sons and daughters of our Mother the Church, so also, as members of the Church, we are called to have a motherly solicitude towards young people (or not so young people) discerning what God is calling them to do.

On March 31 the Holy Father spoke to members of the Salesian religious order (the order founded by St. John Bosco, commonly called Don Bosco, who work especially with young people). He warned them, “Sometimes a vocation to the consecrated life is confused with a choice of volunteer work, and this distorted view is not good for [religious orders]. Next year — 2015 — which has been dedicated to the consecrated life, will be a favorable occasion to present its beauty to young people. Partial visions should always be avoided so as not to arouse vocational responses that are frail and based on weak motives. Apostolic vocations are ordinarily the result of good youth ministry. Caring for vocations requires specific attention: first prayer, then activities, personalized programs, courage in making the proposal, guidance and family involvement. The vocational geography has changed and is changing, and consequently more demanding formation, guidance and discernment is needed.”

What the pope said to that group can be extrapolated to us in the Diocese of Fall River — the need to develop programs for youth which help them live their faith (so that they’ll respond to whatever vocation, lay, religious or clerical, to which God is calling them); the need to distinguish between volunteering and a vocation (the former is a temporary activity — important and needed, but it must be integrated into our response to God’s call for our lives); the importance of the Church community and the family in developing vocations. May God help us rededicate ourselves to doing this.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts