by Fr. Todd J. Petersen
This month, we mark National Vocations Awareness Week(January 13-18). While so often we single out priesthood and religious life, we know that we need holy husbands and wives, following the model of the Holy Family. We need holy married couples to raise children in an environment of holiness. Any response to the call of God is first made possible by the loving example of family. Without holy families, the chances of responding to a call are greatly diminished, simply because no one has modeled how to respond to any call, whether to priesthood, religious life, the deaconate, the missionary life, or even holy marriage.
There seems to be a certain confusion among parents for the best practices that would open their children’s hearts to responding. Perhaps we should take comfort calling to mind Pentecost – despite all the confusion, it was the work of the Holy Spirit in which we find the trust that God to still be in control. We also know that more than the minimum is necessary. Following the precepts of the Church are the minimum. What follows are some humble ‘hints’ for parents in how to create an environment in which children will be open to hearing God’s voice and responding in love to that call.
1. Develop your relationship with Christ and impart a desire for discipleship in the lives of your children. Especially important would be participating in Eucharistic Adoration and even if possible daily Mass. Silence is necessary for growth (both your own and for your child), and in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, we are profoundly touched by His loving embrace. In frequent reception of the Eucharist, we grow in grace and freedom.
2. Live your vocation to marriage out as fully as you can. By responding to your vocation to marriage, asking for the fullness of grace that God offers, you will model to your children how to live and respond to God’s grace.
3. Speak of the holy and influential priests and religious in your life. Sharing these stories helps to show the impact a religious life can have.
4. Provide opportunities for your children to speak with priests and religious. Invite them to your house, or let your children interact with them after Mass or at various functions. Your children will see them as human beings and begin to ask if God might be calling them, too.
5. Pray for your children’s vocations, that they may understand their call, and place them in the care of the Blessed Mother, through praying the rosary as a family. By placing your children’s vocations to her maternal protection, she will lead them to Christ.
6. Speak of your children responding to whatever vocation they have, showing your support of them without pushing them. Be aware that the vocation comes from God, and that their free response will lead them to lasting happiness. Parents walk a fine line between showing support and forcing a response. Let your children know you are pleased by their response to God’s call.
7. Instill in your children a desire to serve and a proper understanding of stewardship. This can be done through your ‘open’ service and stewardship. Let your children see your joy-filled gift of self, and help them to find opportunities to do likewise.
8. Inspire a heroic life of virtue in your child by reading to them or with them about the lives of the saints and encouraging moral choices.
9. Help your child develop a wide range of activities and discern what gives them joy and what their talents are. By knowing their talents and gifts, your child may be able to know what God desires. There are certain skills that are useful in any lifestyle and vocation, and by learning to place these in the service of God, your child will more readily be able to cultivate other ‘specialized’ gifts that will led to discerning God’s will.
10. Develop a sense of the sacred and transcendent in your child. Great art, literature, and music can inspire us and teach us of the human condition.
There is nothing profound in any of these things. Together, we can build a culture for vocations in our homes, parishes, area faith communities, diocese, and world. We can create an environment which enables and encourages all of us to respond more deeply to God’s call. We can inspire our youth to take their proper places at the altar as lay men and women, as religious, as deacons, and priests, together worshipping God with one unified voice of praise!