Some Thoughts on Vocations
The Serra Club's mission is to pray for and support vocations, especially vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. In order for people to embrace a religious vocation, however, we need to understand the very concept of vocation.
Today we live in a culture that promotes personal freedom and autonomy, a culture that places the individual at the center of his or her own world, so to speak. People are conditioned to believe that they will be happy if they are free to do whatever they want with their lives. In order to appreciate what a vocation is, we must realize that our culture is lying to us. The truth is: you will not be happy if you do whatever you want in life. Rather, you will be happy if you discover God's plan for your life, because God is our ultimate Good and He knows what is best for each of us.
To discover God's plan for our lives, we first need to believe that God truly does have a plan for our lives and it is the key to our happiness and fulfillment. We have to trust God. In order for this to happen, we need a living relationship with Him. Unfortunately, this is what is missing from the lives of many young people today who are trying to decide what to do with their lives. Before anyone can be open to the idea of a vocation, he or she must learn to keep God at the center of his or her life and constantly live and nourish that relationship with God.
To discover God's plan for our lives, we also must learn how to listen to Him. God usually does not give us answers to important questions all in one instant. He tends to reveal His plan for us gradually in a variety of ways. Prayer, the words of Sacred Scripture, conversations with other people of faith, and our own experiences can gradually illuminate God's plan for us. Our own talents, interests, and the types of work we find enjoyable are also clues that point to God's plan for our lives. (We must not think that doing God's will means giving up what we enjoy and doing something we would not have otherwise chosen.)
A vocation starts with how our lives are oriented. If a young person today is taught that happiness can be found in the freedom to do whatever he or she desires, with as few restrictions as possible; if such a young person does not experience God as a daily influence on his or her life, then the very concept of a "vocation" will be lost on that young person. But, if a young person is taught to know and love God, to experience Him as a true, living Person in his or her life; if such a young person is convinced that God has a mission for his or her life, and accepting this mission will lead to true happiness and fulfillment like none we could ever achieve on our own, then he or she will be eager to discover his or her vocation.
We pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. We also pray that more people will embrace marriage as a vocation, rather than merely a matter of personal choice. We pray that more and more young people will be taught to overcome the cultural influences on them and discover God's presence in their lives and the mission He has for each of them.
May 16th Serra Talk
The mission of the Serra Club is to pray for vocations. The following are a few observations about young people in the Church today and suggestions for how these observations can help us "focus" our prayer for vocations.
Observation #1: 21st Century American culture is influencing our young people (and people in general) to be self-centered. This is not a judgment of anyone. It is simply an observation. Most people do not realize just how much they are being conditioned to have a self-centered outlook. Young people are being influenced to think that their own personal happiness and fulfillment is a matter of doing whatever they want in life, not only in terms of career and interests, but even believing whatever they want and living their lives according to whatever values they personally choose for themselves. The self is being placed at the center of a young person's world. There is a great emphasis on self-expression. Young people are growing up in a world of smartphones and other highly-personalized devices that, ironically, allow them to withdraw into themselves. Personal opinion reigns supreme: we live in a society where a large number of people feel the need to post their every thought and opinion on social media.
This creates a great challenge because our fulfillment as human beings made in God's image, made in the image of God who is a Trinity – not a solitary individual, but rather a communion of three Persons united in perfect love: our fulfillment as human beings is in overcoming the self, going outside oneself, giving oneself, sacrificing oneself: authentic love: living for another person and, thus, building communion with another person.
This is what vocations are all about: whether the vocation of marriage and family life, or the priesthood, or any of the various forms of religious life. The very concept of a vocation runs totally counter to the mentality of our culture today. According to our culture, I will be happy if I do whatever I want. But, the truth us: I will be happy if I discover what God wants from my life, and I give myself to that mission, which means making commitments and sacrifices.
Observation #2: Our young people are also being conditioned to be skeptical, to question everything, to distrust any information that is being handed down to them (especially if it comes from an institution like the Church, or religion in general). While it is good to ask questions, a large number of our young people do not ask questions to learn. Rather, they ask questions to challenge and argue. Our culture is influencing many young people to reject the truths of Christian faith and morality that have been passed down to them by their parents, school, church.
Observation #3: "Church" things seem to be more and more foreign to younger people. Through no fault of their own, many young people have no sense of the sacred, no sense of the supernatural, no sense of respect and reverence for the things associated with "church," no sense of ritual. Sacraments, signs and symbols are becoming incomprehensible to many young people.
In a fast-paced culture of instant communication and technology and entertainment, and thanks partly to our short attention spans, "church" things can be at least boring, at worst foreign and meaningless to younger people. How can one raise the question of religious vocations to young people who are not even comfortable with "church" things?
Observation #4: It is not all bad news. We can observe that there are still very many young Catholics who do not fit the profile outlined above. There is a significant number of young people who are genuinely committed to their faith, who take the Church seriously. They can easily be found at Sunday Mass with their families, in our Catholic schools, among home-schooling families, in youth groups, etc.
Observation #5: Although many young Catholics are missing from Sunday Mass, there is reason for hope with regard to their spiritual lives. Many pray on a regular basis in some way. Many even seem to appreciate Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament when they are exposed to this on a regular basis. While they may not be at Mass every Sunday, and while they may struggle with or even reject some truths of faith or morality, many young people still pray. And, if they are praying, it keeps the door open for our Lord to work in their lives and lead them in the right direction.
With these observations in mind, the following are three suggestions for prayer.
Suggestion #1: We need to change our perspective. It will always be easy to complain about the state of affairs in our culture and in the Church today, especially the lack of religious vocations. But complaining does no good. We need a new perspective: we must see ourselves as living in mission territory. In mission territory, committed Catholics are a small minority, a great many Catholics and people in general are ignorant of the truth through no fault of their own, and the values of the surrounding culture are not Christian values. Instead of being upset by these circumstances, we can look at them as an opportunity.
St. Junipero was a missionary. He would have been able to relate well to our situation today: being part of a small minority working to bring Jesus to a non-Christian culture. That was his work, and he was very zealous and committed to his work as a missionary. We might consider praying through the intercession of St. Junipero for the "missionary efforts" in our society today, what has been called the New Evangelization.
Suggestion #2: As mentioned above, many of our young people are still committed to the faith and the Church, and a great many show very positive signs of a genuine spiritual life. We might consider dedicating part of our prayer on a regular basis to these young Catholics. We might ask the Blessed Mother to watch over them especially. Mary is the perfect model of discipleship and fidelity to God's will, the perfect model of love for Jesus. We can ask Mary to protect these young people from the harmful influences in our culture, to help them stay faithful, and to help them discover and respond to their vocations.
Suggestion #3: We must never give up on the many young people who seem "lost" or hopeless, those who have rejected all or part of the Catholic faith. We must draw from our faith in Jesus Christ and His Paschal Mystery: He has conquered sin and death. The victory over evil has already been won, even though we will not experience the full manifestation of that victory in this life. Thanks to Jesus, there are no hopeless cases. Perhaps, on a regular basis, we can pray for individuals whom we know personally, or those somewhere in the world who seem like hopeless cases, individuals who seem most distant from God. A good time to pray for these individuals is at the Consecration at Mass: when the chalice is raised, we might be reminded that Jesus has already shed His Precious Blood to conquer sin and death.
In this Year of Mercy (and, indeed, anytime) we might also consider praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy on a regular basis for a young person who has rejected or drifted from the faith. God's mercy is powerful enough to change hearts.
Our prayers are powerful and fruitful. Our prayers for vocations are an act of love and sacrifice because we can almost never see the results of our prayers. By our trust, faithfulness, and perseverance, we will someday be amazed at the difference our prayers for vocations have made.