A Vocation for My Child?

29 May

“For an increase of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, we pray to the Lord . . .”

I’m sure many of us have heard this intention at Mass and dutifully added our own “Lord, hear our prayer.” But from where will this requested “increase” come? It seems this petition isn’t simply about numbers. While we do need an increase of vocations in the universal Church, this petition involves us in the process. We must be willing to help foster vocations in our own communities, parishes, and families as part of our own “fruit-bearing” mission.

When it comes to promoting vocations in the family, we must strive to find the right balance that encourages religious vocations without either forbidding or coercing them.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a tremendous section on the role of parents in the doctrinal and spiritual formation of their children (nos. 2221-31). This formation provides the groundwork for each child to discover and freely choose his or her vocation in Christ.

Catechism no. 2230 summarizes it well: “When they become adults, children have the right and duty to choose their profession and state of life.” But it goes deeper than that.

Catechism nos. 2232-33 stresses that family ties are not absolute. God calls each person by name, including our own children. As parents, we must respect this fact and encourage children to follow wherever God leads them. As my wife likes to say, they’re really God’s children; He just lets us have them for a time. This truth has particular relevance to religious vocations:

“Parents should welcome and respect with joy and thanksgiving the Lord’s call to one of their children to follow Him in virginity for the sake of the kingdom in the consecrated life or in priestly ministry” (no. 2233).

In many families I’ve encountered, the problem is that religious vocations are not adequately valued. The natural but at times inordinate desire for grandchildren, lukewarm faith, poor formation, and secular values are but a few of the factors that come into play.

As the father of a young woman who entered religious life out of high school two years ago, I am more sympathetic than I used to be to the concerns of parents who don’t want this for their children. Admittedly, it is difficult to give the child back to God a little before we’re ready to let go. (Are we ever ready?)

We all want the best for our children. We want them to be happy. Well, the consecrated life is objectively the highest calling in the Church. What more could we ask for? On top of that, if our child truly is called to this beautiful life, he or she will subjectively experience a level of happiness rarely found in this life. I’ve seen this already taking place in my own dear Sr. Evangeline.

At the other extreme, surely we don’t want to push our children, directly or implicitly, against their will. It’s their choice, their vocation.

Now, I did want assurance that my daughter was choosing a solid community that suited her personality and gifts. In that regard, almost all of the sound religious communities in our country are affiliated with the Institute on Religious Life (IRL), which has a helpful directory.

Other than that, the single best encouragement is to bring our children up in a family, however imperfect it may be, that strives to put first things first, that makes the Eucharist the center and goal of daily living. If we do that, we just might see an increase.

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