We all know there is a vocations crisis in the Church. We have a shortage of priests, deacons, and religious. Fewer people than ever want to get married or stay married (I would also add, there is a shortage of single people who are living out holy lives).
To add to the problem, there is a lot of talk about discerning one’s vocation that can be confusing to young people. Some are waiting for a sign–some great experience that will leave them without a doubt as to God’s calling in their lives. Others feel they must follow a certain path because they have been told it is the “holier” path or feel pressured to fill the void of certain vocations. All of this can leave a young adult confused and frustrated. With younger children, they change their mind so often they are not in a position to make serious life decisions yet. For parents wanting to help their children to find God’s will for their lives all of this can be worrisome and leave a parent wondering what to say and how to help.
Helping your children to choose a vocation doesn’t have to be complex. I firmly believe we have complicated something which is very simple. Simple—not easy, but simple.
The gospel message is one of simplicity. Jesus Christ said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”(Mark 8:34-35) He also said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
Love of God, love of neighbor, denying ourselves daily by carrying our cross and following our Lord. Simple-not easy. Whichever vocation is chosen will be the way our Lord’s words are answered. The true beginning of fulfilling our Lord’s command began on the day of baptism, when the old man died and the new one rose out of the waters and put on Christ. And this is what can take a complex situation about vocations and make it simple again. Let’s focus on teaching our children to answer their baptismal calling instead of finding their vocation.
If we teach our children, (or more importantly, show them by our own example) that every Christian belongs completely to God–every Christian is called to be a saint, then whichever vocation they choose when they are old enough will simply be an extension of the life they have already been living in Christ. It will not be some grand new journey, or some complete turn around and change of their lives, but a continuing in growing in love of God and neighbor, a continuing of carrying a daily cross and following the Lord. Yes, there will be changes in how they do these things, but these self-denying acts and growth in holiness will not be new and will not likely be culminated in some radical life changing events.
Helping our children to discern their vocations will be made so much easier if we are teaching them to strive after sanctity from their birth; if we are raising them in holy homes–homes filled with love, prayer, and sacrifice; teaching them about the royal priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9). I tell my own children that it does not matter which vocation they choose. They should seek where they will find the most joy in life and know whichever vocation they pick; the same thing is expected of them–to live their lives for God and His people. They are called to be saints and nothing less.
It is very important to have good people around our children to influence them in positive ways. My children have attended liturgical services at a monastery for most of their lives. We have been blessed with a wonderful community of Christians. My children have seen examples of good priests, good deacons, Christian marriages, single people living holy lives, and monks and nuns striving after sanctity. The many different ways a Christian can live are shown to them by example and the different vocations are familiar to them. I am very grateful for this and trust that my children will never have false ideals about any of the vocations in the Church. They have seen the different struggles and will know that no vocation makes something “magical” happen to you; the struggle for holiness is the same for everyone.
This is why community is so very important. We need one another in order to really be Christians. We need one another to grow. Children need to see Christians strive after holy lives, they need to see Christians fail but get up and try again. They need to witness real love of God and neighbor so they too can learn to love. The example of their own parents and their home life is the greatest influence of course, but an extended community is also very important.
Building these communities takes work. And this work is the work of our salvation. Children growing up in an environment of committed Christians who try to serve God and one another will have a life-long source of inspiration to draw from. When our children grow up and leave the nest they should be prepared to serve God and others; they should know how to deny themselves; they should know what is being asked of them as Christians because it has been asked of them their entire lives. They should know that regardless of what others around them do or don’t do, they must follow Christ daily.
I believe one of the greatest tragedies of the breaking down of the family is that it not only harms individual families but the larger community. This falling apart of the family extends to the extended family, the communities we live in, and into our church families. Pope Francis recently commented on the blessings of large Catholic families, saying “The sons and daughters of large families are more inclined to fraternal communion from early childhood. In a world that is frequently marred by selfishness, a large family is a school of solidarity and sharing; and these attitudes are of benefit to all society.” If our children do not learn these lessons at home and in their church communities, things will only be harder for them as adults. Becoming a nun will not make them holy, being selfless will. Ultimately the love, wisdom, and building up of our children will be the greatest gift we parents can give. Teaching them to live real Christian lives will be what aids them the most in the beginning of their chosen vocations and entire adult lives.
Whichever vocation our children choose will require them to live in community, to be a member of the body of Christ. Cooking for a spouse and children, working to support a family, feeding the hungry at a soup kitchen, or feeding the Eucharist to the church, each act involves self sacrifice, self denial. Washing dishes in a monastery isn’t anymore appealing or holier than washing them in a regular home. Or rather, washing dishes, regardless of where, has the potential to be a holy act. The work of living and dying is pretty much the same for us all. “All of you who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.” The participation in Christ’s life, the participation in the life of the Church, in the sacraments, enables us to seek after and live holy lives. This is the guidance and wisdom our children need to learn. This will make simple the choosing of a vocation. Even if your children are already young adults and in need of guidance now, a simple returning to the heart of the gospel message can help to make things clearer. Also a reminder that Jesus Christ said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” God wants us to have joy; He wants to bless our lives. Whichever path is chosen in life, sacrifice will be involved and real joy will only last if our lives are lived for God.
Thankfully, we have the saints to lead us and guide us. There are no shortages of holy examples for any Christian looking for guidance; we just need to ask the saints for help; they are always eager to lead us to God. We need to help our children really know the saints; we need to help them to have a real deep relationship with God. If we succeed in guiding them to real love for God and neighbor and succeed in helping them to know how much they are loved, the next steps in their lives will be so much easier for them and us.
The so-called “vocation crisis” is really a baptismal crisis. Let us teach our children to live out their baptismal call, to live their lives in Christ, and when the time comes for them to marry, become priests, or choose any other vocation in the Church, it will simply be the next step in their growth in holiness.