There was a time when one of the most frequent questions I received from readers was about recognizing and fostering vocations in our children. For example, “What special things, in particular, should I be doing as a parent to make sure that I am covering all the bases to raise my children to be open to becoming a priest or a nun?” Unfortunately, this is not a question that comes along frequently anymore. I hope that it is because more Catholic parents have become educated about what it means to encourage vocations in their families. More likely, it is because our culture has become so tough for the faithful to live in that parents are content if their kids are simply maintaining a healthy relationship with God in their daily lives. As the parent of three teenagers and a pre-teen, I can assure you that I sympathize with that sentiment. Fear not! If this is where you are, as a Catholic parent, it is very likely that you are fostering vocations!
In the midst of a culture that sometimes appears to be heading at rocket speed in a downward spiral, the good news is that focusing on helping our kids to maintain that relationship with God is exactly what parents need to be doing to foster vocations. Where we get ourselves into trouble is in trying to micromanage our kids’ hearts. Some parents, for example, may be emotionally crushed if their son says that he is averse to becoming a priest. The important thing is not that your son become a priest, per se. Rather, it is that your son is open to becoming whatever God has created him to be. For some young men this will be a vocation to the priesthood. For others, it is to marriage or to the single life. God’s will is what matters.
By helping our children to develop a loving relationship with God, we are fulfilling our duty in ensuring that God can work within them to bring about His holy will. That basic duty alone requires a great deal from us, including sound catechesis, reception of the Sacraments, and the development of a healthy prayer life. Though the requirements are many, they are the basic requirements that all Catholics should be fulfilling in their daily lives. It is that continual relationship with God that each of us needs in our lives that is the foundational core of fostering vocations.
Because of this basic reality, that vocations depend ultimately on an open relationship with God and a willingness to align our will with His in all things, the Catechism is actually very brief on the duty of parents in regard to vocations.
Family ties are important but not absolute. Just as the child grows to maturity and human and spiritual autonomy, so his unique vocation which comes from God asserts itself more clearly and forcefully. Parents should respect this call and encourage their children to follow it. They must be convinced that the first vocation of the Christian is to follow Jesus: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Perhaps it is the simplicity of the instruction in the Catechism that makes some Catholic parents left wanting more of an explanation, but as the Catechism says, the first vocation, to follow Jesus, is the vocation for all of us, no matter who we are. When we follow Him with our whole hearts, which certainly requires fidelity to the teachings of the Church, everything else will be as it should be, including the fostering of vocations to religious life.
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
In this passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus provides the basic foundation for our spiritual lives which should be applied in discerning a vocation as well as with all other duties of Christians. What does it mean to love the Lord with all our hearts? It means that we will dedicate our lives to God in all that we do, and that we will open our hearts to His will above our own. This is no walk in the park, at times, to let God make of us what He wills for us, come what may, but it is only in this way that each of us will become what God has created us to be. To become something other than what God has made us for is to live a life of disappointment, and sometimes even great misery. When we love God through all that we encounter in life, we find God’s love poured out into our hearts in return, so the life that is lived in alignment with God’s will is a life of peace, joy and hope. So it is with all who are given a vocation, recognize it, and say “Yes” to God when He calls.
Father Joseph Eddy, vocations director for the Mercedarian Friars, has provided “7 Quick Questions” to see whether you might have a vocation, and he offers sound advice on what it means to recognize and foster a vocation in our children.
God gives us all sufficent grace to achieve salvation. Yet his grace is not necessarily equally distributed to everyone. Some have more grace than others to give greater glory to God. Certainly, this was the case with Mary. She was Immaculately Conceived and “Full of Grace” (Lk 1:28). The Lord gave this to her in order that she may be able to respond “fiat” or “yes”. Of course, this was a vocation; to give birth to the Savior. Those who are called to a religious vocation are called to a “super-natural” vocation. Everyone (who does not have a disorder or disability) is naturally drawn to the beauty of marriage. However, some are given a special grace to “forego marriage for the Kingdom”(Mt 19:12). A child may appreciate marriage and desire it, but they feel a stronger call to live entirely for God and His Kingdom.
These children were called “from the womb” (Psalm 139:13) to be especially dedicated to God. We should help all our children to realize that God calls people to marriage, religious life, and priesthood. They should understand the beauty of each vocation. Parents have a “responsibility” to let their children know that whichever vocation they are called to they are supported. The vocation to religious life can be extremely fruitful for the whole world. The religious man or woman gives “spiritual life” to hundreds of people. It takes a lot of faith and courage to trust God. When we encourage our children to follow God’s Will we give them into His amazing care. The generosity of a family who gives “back to God” is the source of Grace and Blessings to all of us!!
What a blessing, indeed.
I invite you to listen to Fr. Joseph Eddy’s story, in the video below, of his own vocation to the Mercedarian Friars. As you can see for yourself, his upbringing in a Catholic family was no more spectacular in holiness than we might expect from any Catholic family that is truly committed to the Faith. Within ordinary, faithful Catholic families, God performs His marvelous work for His people on earth. It is in hearing stories like this one from Fr. Joseph that we can reach a greater understanding of how God works in the lives of our children with our help as parents.