Why Promote Vocations?
by James Price, C.P.
"FATHER, where do you go to get vocations?"
I'm asked that question a lot.
My travels take me around the United States -- North Carolina. Brooklyn, Scranton, Chicago. And I have always have two basic items on my agenda:
First, to bring the message that religious life exists and it's making a difference in the lives of God's people.
Second, to extend an invitation. Vocation directors a aren't recruiters or merely advertisers. We're inviters. Jesus recruited no one, he simply invited them to follow him.
Inviting can be as simple as suggesting to a young person that he consider a vocation to the religious life. You see a certain quality there that brings the thought to your mind -- and you say it. Your suggestion may be just the jump start needed.
It is no secret that fewer young people are coming to religious life. Some of the reasons given for this are: smaller families, the changing nature of family life, the lack of visibility of religious, materialism, consumerism. The list goes on and on.
Whenever I visit schools to speak about vocations, there's one question I always get asked: "Father, is there any way you can get out of it?"
That question should disturb us.
If our young people can only see commitment with an escape clause attached to it, then we have to work hard to promote the value and beauty of permanent commitment, both in marriage and in religious life .
This phenomenon of wanting a built-in escape hatch to a commitment is not limited to religious vocations. Couples are getting married later in life, some have multiple jobs and careers before they reach thirty, the divorce rate is the highest in history.
Yes, there is a vocation crisis, but it's not limited to the church. The vocation crisis is a crisis of commitment. We all have a lot of work to do in communicating to young people that permanent commitment is good and fulfilling.
Promoting such a positive attitude demands being honest with young people, helping them to see that any permanent commitment will almost certainly involve difficult challenges at times. But it's not meant to be an endurance test. It takes freedom to make a commitment, and a permanent commitment gives us great freedom to be the people God wants us to be. Jesus is committed to us for life. He calls us by name at baptism and he asks us whether we will choose a lifestyle and work that commits us to him and his church.
Here is where married couples and religious priests, brothers and sisters who have been living their commitment for many years can help so much. Talking to our children about what attracted us and keeps us committed to our way of life will be a great help to them. We can show them that our commitment is to God and that God reveals himself to us especially in the challenges of suffering.
Unfortunately, the two most important groups in motivating religious vocations aren't doing their job so well today. Parents and religious (priests, brothers and sisters) could do more.
Many parents are confused about religious life. Some are afraid they're losing their child, others actively discourage their children from the thought. But parenting doesn't mean deciding what a child should do. Parenting is more properly concerned with giving children their roots and their wings at the same time.
People are surprised to hear that some religious don't have a lot of excitement about vocations to religious life. Not that they discourage them. They just seem to lack an enthusiasm for more of them. It's not a question of ill will. It could stem from a fear that religious life is dying. from a lack of the considerable energy needed to promote vocations, or simply from being overwhelmed by the dismal vocation picture.
Hope is so important. We have to hope that what we are doing will catch the attention of a young person who can look at us and say "I like what he or she does; I think I can d o that."
Introducing Religious Life
Whenever I meet someone considering a Passionist vocation, I ask him to focus on (a) our community life, (b) our ministries, and (c) our common mission.
The best way to introduce a potential candidate to a community is to have him visit and speak to those who have been living a religious vocation -- to allow him to see them at work. Spending time in a community- helps a person see how 'the common life' -- life in common, is the center of a religious vocation.
The emphasis here is not so much on the kind of work he can do. but rather on whether the Passionist life style will help him in his work.
Religious life is a way of living. It's never "work first, life style later." It's the other way around.
Community life doesn't mean living with others simply for the sake of being together. It means living with others and striving to live out Passionist spirituality.
What does the candidate think he will bring to community life? How can it help him to grow, using his gifts for the mission of the community, which in turn exists for the church?
Having an active interest in the ministries of the Passionists is also crucial. Will this person be happy and fulfilled as a preacher, retreat or parish team member, or as person involved in media ministry? Will being a Passionist allows him to use his gifts to the best of his ability?
If it happens that a young man feels he doesn't fit into this particular- way of life, it doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't belong in religious life. Possibly another religious group would be more suitable for his gifts to be used.
A Common Mission
The serious candidate I meet is very attracted to a group with a common mission. I find that very encouraging. He wants to belong to such a group. He obviously knows that to minister to a community, it's an advantage to have been living in a community of one's own.
The essence of a Passionist vocation is to be rooted in community and personal prayer. It's what enables us to preach by our lives and work the loving memory of the Passion of Jesus -- to help others use the compassion of Jesus in their own lives. Possessing a compassionate heart comes only from revealing ourselves to God in prayer and allow- God to reveal himself to us.
And that's what it finally comes down to, in any presentation of religious life and the commitment it takes: prayer.
Jesus did great things in his life, but he first went to pray St. Paul of the Cross preached mission after mission, founded numerous communities, guided people in spiritual direction. But all of his great work and achievement was due to his many hours in daily prayer.
We can promote vocations to religious life and priesthood only if we pray to see our worth in what we chose to do with our own lives. Encourage others to use their gifts. Encourage the young to use their special gifts to make the presence of Jesus real in our world -- by help- religious communities grow and flourish.
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