Fostering vocations in your children.
Priests and Nuns and Brothers don’t grow on trees!
There has been a lot discussion in recent decades about the decline in vocations. Indeed this has come to a crisis point in the western world with parishes closing and merging, religious orders dwindling into aged care homes and seminaries standing empty.
However, this is not the only story about vocations. There are a number of religious orders that are flourishing and dioceses whose seminaries a
re at capacity. And this is not only happening in the developing world where many postulants wait years for a place at the seminary or novitiate, but also in some western nations too.
What are these dioceses, parishes and orders doing differently and why are vocations flourishing in their shadow while vocations wilt elsewhere?
Before we look to the bishops and ‘the church’ (whoever that is!), to solve the vocations shortage, let us look to ourselves… ordinary, lay men and women in families raising children.
After all, priests nuns and brothers don’t grow on trees, they grow in families!
“At a parish confirmation dinner I asked the Bishop what the Church was going to do about a lack of priestly vocations, expressing my real sense we were losing a key part of who we are as a Catholic community. “How many priests has your parish raised up in the last twenty years?” he asked. When I answered none, he replied, “You have three sons. Have you ever told them how important this is to you?” I never forgot that moment; it has impacted how I talk to not only my own sons, but other young men who ask my advice on their career and vocational calling.”
Orders Getting it Right
Marriage and Family: the birthplace of vocations
Every priest or religious came from a family, almost all from a family of faith. But clerical and religious life is not the only vocation in the Church; there are many others of which marriage is the most common of all vocations.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York noted the link between marriage and vocations to the priesthood and religious life:
“Your marriage is a vocation, a calling to deep communion with God through your spouse. You and your marriage are the first experience of vocation your children will have. It is also the primary model that your kids will have for marriage.”
Your marriage is a vocation, a calling to deep communion with God through your spouse. You and your marriage are the first experience of vocation your children will have. It is also the primary model that your kids will have for marriage. “Don’t worry that your children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” – Robert Fulghum
The best way to communicate the importance and value of vocation, is to live your own really well! Your marriage is the bedrock of your family, and a vocation of marriage lived in all its joyful (and messy) glory creates the space in which children can hear Godís call in their lives and provides the support to answer it.
Five of the surviving daughters of Blesseds Zelie and Louis Martin became nuns and one of them, we know and love as St Therese of Lisieux. Their family life was not a picture of perfection, nor was their marriage. They lost two daughters and two sons under the age of 5. They struggled to balance two businesses, raising their family, being active in their parish and serving the poor. Zelie died in 1877 from breast cancer leaving Louis with five daughters one of which was abused by a nanny. What characterises their spirituality as a couple was their radical openness and acceptance of God’s plan, one that bore exceptional fruit in their daughter St Therese.
Three ways to create a fruitful atmosphere in your home
You hear it consistently in many vocation stories from priests and religious; a family that prays together gives birth to vocations of all kinds.
“Dad would tell me, ‘Our Lord’s got a plan for you, a vocation: I donít know how or to what he’s going to call you, but when he does you’ll know.’ Every night Dad would have us pray a little aspiration asking God to let us see His will.” – Seminarian, Sydney Archdiocese
Some kind of regular family prayer ritual is critical to fostering your child’s emerging relationship with God. Some families say a whole Rosary after dinner, some have a routine bed time prayer. Others read scripture stories together or adopt faith activities like those provided in CathFamily.
If you have young children, establishing a habit of prayer is often easier as they will be less likely to resist the change. The best way to get older children praying is by extending an invitation and going ahead with or without them. It might take a couple of weeks, but if you stick to a routine, they will notice and be influenced by it, and may even join you.
Talk about your vocation discernment. It could be the moment you knew when you were going to marry your wife/husband. Maybe you considered a calling to the priesthood or religious life before you met your husband/wife. Tell stories about the priests, nuns, brothers, married and single people who have had an impact on your vocation. Talk about your favourite saints and their life and vocation. Talk about the saints you may have named your children after and why you chose that particular saint.
But most of all… talk about your relationship with Jesus. Ultimately, the foundation of any vocation is a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus and if you don’t talk about it, your children will have much more difficulty knowing and understanding their vocation. If you donít talk about it because you don’t have one… that’s ok, everyone has to grapple with this at some point, but do something about it! Be honest and open about the ups and downs, the joys and the struggles. Drop the J-word! Don’t be afraid!
If your children only get exposure to priests at Mass, they will assume that priests are sacrament dispensing robots… Invite your parish priest over for Sunday lunch! You may be surprised how few invitations he gets. Is there a visiting priest? Invite him too! Are you lucky enough to have a convent near you? Invite the nuns over also. The casual and relaxed atmosphere of a family meal with guests not only instills a spirit of hospitality and welcome in your children; it gives them the opportunity to get to know people living different vocations, hear their stories and ask questions.
An Invitation to Love
You can’t love what you don’t know. We try to give our children every opportunity in life and run them around to music lessons, tutoring, sport games, dance classes, band practice etc.. All of these things are good, but our children’s vocation needs to be nurtured just as much as their gifts and talents. Regular exposure to different people with different vocations will do more to expand your kid’s horizons than you might imagine.
The vocations crisis goes deeper than the decline in religious and priestly vocations. There is also a crisis of discipleship, a significant dearth of ordinary people knowing and being in a personal relationship with Jesus. This is what our task is in the New Evangelisation, to not just raise our children to be cultural Catholics, but to raise disciples.
A vocation (to marriage, single, priesthood or religious life) is a supernatural mystery that emerges from a sustained encounter with Jesus. As parents, your key role is to facilitate both your own and your children’s spiritual growth. Jesus loves you and has a plan for you, your husband or wife and your family. By nurturing your own discipleship, you will be able to then nurture discipleship in your children- a fundamental part of their capacity to discern their vocation whatever it may be.
Recommended Reading: Pick up a copy of Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry A. Weddell. This insightful book gives a thorough and thoughtful explanation of discipleship and how activating parishes is bearing incredible fruit across the world.
This awesome website is a new online initiative to help foster and support women’s religious vocations.
The web-hub of Fr Robert Barron’s evangelising ministry with youtube videos, podcasts and blogs on everything from movies to the latest encyclical and his stunning Catholicism series.
Authors: Kiara and Francine Pirola
This article featured in the August 2013 edition of the CathFamily eMagazine. For more from this edition, check out: