Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York recently noted the link between marriage and vocations to the priesthood and religious life: “We have a vocation crisis to life-long, life-giving, loving, faithful marriage. If we take care of that one, we’ll have all the priests and nuns we need for the church.” In this Year of the Priest, it’s a clarion call to Catholics everywhere to redouble our efforts to support marriage and family.
A vocation is not a job; it is a life commitment to a person (in marriage) or a people (in priesthood or religious life). A vocation is a love relationship defining one’s entire being: giving life to others. For a vocation to be nurtured and recognised, children need to grow up breathing in an atmosphere of faith, love and generosity of heart.
Our children are powerfully formed by their home environment. However, a child is never a programmed product of their parent’s desires and priorities; they are a unique child of God with the gift of free will. As parents and guardians, part of our role is to create the environment where our children can discover their life’s calling; to lay the foundations for their vocational journey through life. In the early years this starts indirectly by the witness of our own lives, the atmosphere of our homes and the things we value. As they mature, more direct conversations and experiences help them consolidate their vocational call. Here are a few ideas to help start your children on this journey:
Foster a spirit of generosity.
A vocation grows from a generous heart. Teach your children what it means to willingly go that extra mile for a family member, friend or neighbour in need. Volunteer for a parish outreach and involve your children in it when possible. Give generously to a charity in both money and time. Stretch yourself beyond your own comfort zone.
Live your own vocation well.
If your vocation is marriage, the best thing you can do is to live it with passion. Don’t settle for second best. Couples should never stop learning how to love each other better. For your anniversary, surprise yourselves on how much more you can be for each other: do a couples’ retreat, a marriage enrichment course, or read a book together on the topic.
Check out SmartLoving.org, a website dedicated to equipping couples at every stage with the formation and strategies tp live out their marriage with joy. SmartLoving offers seminars and resources that combine the lastest insights from modern psychology with John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
Model a robust faith.
When things aren’t going well – in fact, especially when things aren’t going well – the witness of a strong and gutsy faith will have a profound effect on your children. When confronted with challenges or heartache, pray more not less; draw closer to the Church not away; choose forgiveness not bitterness.
Present all the options.
Make ‘vocation talk’ a topic of discussion in your family. For instance, talk about what it means to be married (don’t assume it’s obvious!). Importantly, present all the options: if you would be proud to see your child as a priest, religious brother/sister or a dedicated single, then tell them so!
Affirm vocations of all kids.
Talk positively about the obvious commitment in people around you: couples devoted to their marriage, their children, priests serving their parish, sisters and brothers living their mission. Celebrate anniversaries. Take your children to an ordination ceremony. Speak warmly of the priests and religious in your family’s life.
Finally, relax, trust and let go.
We worry so much for our children, and rightly so. Remember that their lives are in God’s hands and we have them but for a while. While we are called to do our best, that is all we can do. God’s plan for their life must be discovered and embraced… and only they can do it.