This is the final column on Catholic vocations (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5) and what parents can do to help children discern their vocation. Recently I had the privilege of attending the diocesan Pro-Life Mass at St. Julie Billiart Church in North Dartmouth, MA. It was a beautiful event celebrated by Bishop Coleman of the Fall River diocese, with over ten priests and deacons, and attended by laypeople and school children from all over the diocese. During the middle of this Mass, I became aware of the perfect image with which to conclude this series about the Body of Christ or our Catholic Vocational Village. Let me explain.
From a bird's eye view, the floor plan of St. Julie's Church looks like a child's drawing of a setting sun. Aisles radiate out like sun rays from the sanctuary, which is positioned in the middle of the back wall of the church. As Bishop Coleman raised the Eucharist during the consecration, I became conscious of the fact that we Villagers made up concentric rings, radiating out from and surrounding the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Even the lay and religious faithful outside the church walls, and the angels and saints beyond this world became a part of this encircling image. Imagining that all our eyes were fixed on the Eucharist, it felt to me as if the physical church itself and the people gathered became a giant, larger-than-life monstrance. The crucifix on the wall behind the sanctuary, in which a bright circle of light surrounds the crucified body of our Lord, reinforced the visual sensation of being in a monstrance.
The importance of this experience lies in the fact that, while writing this series, a verse from the Book of Hebrews kept popping into my mind: "Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Because I have always thought of a race as being run either in a straight line or around an oval track, but always with participants racing against each other, this verse seemed to contrast with the unifying image of the Vocational Village.
All that changed as I looked at the Eucharist. Alleluia! The race marked out for us as Catholic Christians is not in a line from and to nowhere in particular, nor is it a race around in pointless circles! Our race is toward the center, toward Jesus, and with each other! With our eyes fixed on Him, our individual paths, our different vocations, converge from all points of the globe, indeed even from opposing points of theology and ideology. Like sun rays being drawn back to their origin, when we race back to the sanctuary, when we draw back to the Eucharist, we are not only unified with Jesus, but we are brought closer to each other with every step we take.
As parents, called to help our children discern their vocations, we need to understand that while the path may be different, the object or the focus of all vocations is always the same. The focus is Jesus. As we begin to instill in our children a sense of vocation, we need to remember that our Catholic Village is designed to be radiantly gigantic, larger-than-life! Instead of fixating on numbers or on certain vocations, we need urgently to desire an increase in the intensity of every Catholic Villager's commitment to every vocational state. We need to run the race toward Christ as a family, urging all members to rush closer to the center, cheering all members on toward listening and responding with greater faith to God's call.
As anyone who has run in a race can testify, the collective excitement of running in a crowd is contagious. It causes all participants to run faster and longer than they thought they possibly could at the beginning of the race. Amid this celebratory atmosphere for vocational life, alleluia, I believe God's call, including the call to the priesthood and religious life, will be heard and heeded with increasing intensity and by increasing numbers.