As 21st century American parents, we put a great deal of focus on preparing our children for the future, be it through visually stimulating baby toys, memory-enhancing music lessons, or intelligence boosting tutoring. Before any of these earthly things can be of aid to our children, however, we must first prepare the soil of their souls to know that God has a vision, a use for their abilities that far transcends résumé building. As Catholic parents, it is our distinct privilege not only to prepare the soil, but also to plant and nurture the seeds of God's vision for their lives and to help them make His vision their own. The phrase commonly used for internalizing this vision is "discerning one's vocation."
When my husband and I began the soil tilling or the discernment process with our children, the first challenge we faced was one of language. What, exactly, was meant by the term "vocation?" Originating from the Latin verb, "vocare," meaning "to call," when the Catholic Church refers to a "vocation" it is referring to the voice of God calling each of us to a specific state of life as adults. The confusing part of the term, "vocation," is that it is sometimes misused to isolate only those individuals who have chosen the consecrated life of a priest, or of a religious sister or brother. It is important to understand that every Catholic person has a vocation. Each of us is called by God to play a specific part in his kingdom here on earth where "there is diversity of ministry but unity of mission" (CCC 873).
Painting with the broadest brush possible, there are three vocational states of life: remaining single and celibate, entering consecrated religious life, or getting married. Around the warmth of our hearth, we need to share with our children that God's vision for their life could include any of the three states, and that it is their adventure to go out and look and listen for God's vocation for them through a process called discernment.
Sr. Kathleen Rooney, SSJ writes in her book, Sisters, An Inside Look, "I consider discernment to be 'thinking with God.'" Discernment is more than just deciding. It encompasses praying, weighing options with those who know us well, visiting with those who are living in specific vocational states, inventorying our natural abilities, and waiting in expectant silence for the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit.
Because we want to be the best parents possible, it is easy for us to get swept into the cultural expectations of what our children must have and do to be successful grownups. We may even be tempted to slide the spiritual preparation God asks us to give them to the bottom of the "to-do" list because God is not feeding us the multi-media blitz that our culture is. Matthew 6:31-33 is the scriptural promise for us to pray as we re-prioritize and put first things first when it comes to nurturing vocations at home. Inserting our child's name (Suzy, for example) in the scripture passage helps to make this a powerfully personal prayer. "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we (Suzy) eat?' or 'What will we (Suzy) drink?' or 'What will we (Suzy) wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your (Suzy's) heavenly Father knows that you (Suzy) need(s) all these things. But [tell Suzy to] strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you (Suzy) as well." The best book I've come across about the process of discerning a vocation is titled, What Does God Want?, by Fr. Michael Scanlan, T.O.R. I highly recommend this short, absorbing book, which will benefit parents and kids alike.