Skip to main content

Vocations and Discipleship

This essay on vocations by Fr. Damian J. Ference hits all the right notes. First of all, Fr. Ference does not isolate the religious vocations. He includes marriage and chaste single life in his discussion. He understands that all vocations are the fruit of discipleship.

Millions of dollars have been spent by vocation offices on prayer cards, lesson plans, vocation week activities, homily helpers, discernment brochures, websites, and an array of other vocation promotion materials, but have these approaches really made a significant impact on our young people? Sadly, the answer is no. For all the effort that has been put into vocation awareness in recent history, our returns have not been very good, but it is not for lack of effort. Bishops, vocation directors, DREs, catechists and parents, have been working diligently to address the lack of vocations in the Church, but very little has changed. Sure, there are some orders and some diocesan seminaries that are doing better than others, but the overall vocation picture remains the same. It seems to me that the real problem is that we’ve misdiagnosed the vocation situation, and therefore, we’ve been spending all our time, effort and money on the wrong things. In other words, we’ve been treating the symptoms without ever recognizing the disease.

The root of our current vocation problem is a lack of discipleship. Of course, a disciple is one who encounters Jesus, repents, experiences conversion and then follows Jesus. All too often those of us in positions of Church leadership presume that all the folks in the pews on Sundays, all the children in our grade schools, high schools and PSR programs, all the kids in our youth groups, all the men in our Men’s Clubs and all the women in our Women’s Guilds, and all the members of our RCIA team are already disciples. Many are not. (The same can be said of staffs and faculties of Catholic institutions.) Our people may be very active in the programs of our parishes, schools and institutions, but unfortunately, such participation does not qualify for discipleship.

The answer to the crisis of all of our vocations comes from forming and strengthening disciples of Christ. As I wrote here, vocations are a natural response to understanding that we are servants of Our Lord. A man does not become a priest in order to serve himself, but rather to serve God by serving His Church. A man and a woman do not rightly enter into Holy Matrimony for their own benefit, but rather to love and serve God through the vocation of marriage. A woman does not enter a religious order to please herself, but rather to serve and please God. This desire to serve comes from knowing and loving Christ. Without this relationship to Christ, all of our good works will be empty actions devoid of any transcendent quality. Fr. Ference touches on this when he discusses youth groups.

Let us take the example of a parish youth group to serve as a microcosm for our current situation. A youth group has a similar structure to most parish groups, in that most parish groups identify themselves in four ways: spiritual, service-oriented, social and catechetical. For a parish youth group to be what it is supposed to be, the first priority of the group must be to make disciples of young people who do not know Jesus, and to make stronger disciples of the ones who already know him. Such a suggestion seems quite basic and even simplistic at first glance, but this is precisely the point. Far too often we as a Church have failed with the most basic principle of discipleship while loading up on service projects and social activities, and the parish youth group becomes just one more line on a young person’s college résumé, without ever calling that young person to real conversion.

Pope Benedict emphasizes the same point in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:

Individuals who care for those in need must first be professionally competent: they should be properly trained in what to do and how to do it, and committed to continuing care. Yet, while professional competence is a primary, fundamental requirement, it is not of itself sufficient. We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern. Those who work for the Church's charitable organizations must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, but they dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity. Consequently, in addition to their necessary professional training, these charity workers need a “formation of the heart”: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others. As a result, love of neighbour will no longer be for them a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love (cf. Gal 5:6).


The final words spoken by Christ to the Apostles did not command them to alleviate earthly suffering. Rather Christ said:

"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." (Mt. 28:19-20)


We are each charged to do the same.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Parent Letter from a Catechist

I am going to be teaching seventh grade CCD this year. We do most of the preparation for confirmation during this year since Confirmation is usually scheduled for the fall of the eighth grade year.I have composed a letter to the parents to try and keep them active in their children's religious education. I thought I would post it here and get your feedback before I send it out in a couple of weeks.

I am privileged to be your child’s seventh grade CCD teacher for the 2006-2007 school year. This is a very important year. We will focus on your child’s preparation for confirmation. Of course, you have already been preparing your child for this sacrament for many years. You are the primary catechist for your child. You show how important your Faith is by making Mass attendance a top priority and by family prayer.

Confirmation is one of the Sacraments of Initiation. It is a beginning. It is not a graduation. This year we will work to solidify the foundation of your child’s Catholic Faith.…

Dispelling the Myth of the Travel Dispensation

One of the fun things about having a site meter on my blog is I can see which posts garner the most attention. I can also see how people find my blog. One of the most read posts from my two years of blogging is this one that discusses finding Mass while traveling. I would like to think this post is so popular because it is so well written. The truth of the matter is that it generates so much traffic because I use the words “travel dispensation for Mass”—as in “There is no such thing as a travel dispensation for Mass.” I would guess that nearly a dozen times every week, someone googles “travel dispensation for Mass” and finds my blog. I wonder how many of these folks are poor souls trying to assuage their Catholic guilt with evidence of a justification for missing Mass while on the road.

I know that when I tell my seventh grade CCD students that attending Mass every Sunday is a commandment (one of the top ten!) and not just a pretty good idea they are amazed. Missing Mass has become so …

United Breaks Guitars

This guy is really talented and what a creative way to get your message across. I think he captured the "indifferent employee" perfectly. They don't just work for airlines. I think I ran into them at Walmart on Friday!