24 March 2014

Fostering Vocations: The Duty of the Entire Christian Community

Today in my course on Sacred Ministers we took a look at canon 233 §1, which reads as follows:
The duty of fostering vocations rests with the entire Christian community so that the needs of the sacred ministry in the universal Church are provided for sufficiently. This duty especially binds Christian families, educators, and, in a special way, priests, particularly pastors. Diocesan bishops, who most especially are to be concerned for promoting vocations, are to teach the people entrusted to them of the importance of the sacred ministry and of the need for ministers in the Church and are to encourage and support endeavors to foster vocations, especially by means of projects established for that purpose.
Notice that the canon does not say that the duty of fostering vocations rests with parents only, but with the entire Christian community and with the family. In short, as the Knights of Columbus have long been reminding us, vocations are everybody's business. The professor even described the family as "the proto seminary."

For this very reason I was happy to recall an exchange I had with a friend some weeks back through Facebook, which I have been saving for a blog post. Given our discussion in class this morning, today seems a good day to use it.

My friend, who teaches religion in a Catholic high school, wrote concerning one of his students in his class:
I have a student who has mentioned a couple of times in writing (not ever verbally) that he is interested in priesthood. He is a popular kid, a football player, has a girlfriend, etc. I want to encourage him in his discernment, but don't want to freak him out either. Any advice on how should I approach him. Again, we've never discussed it and he has only written it in various answers he has turned in.
Unfortunately, priests and vocation directors receive questions far too infrequently. Every commitment in life, every major decision and trajectory, needs the support and encouragement - yes, even the fostering - of family and friends; a vocation to the priesthood, the diaconate, or the consecrated life is no different.

Not knowing the individual student, my response necessarily had to be somewhat generic:
Since he's only mentioned it in writing, you could write back to him and encourage him to discern the Lord's calling, mentioning why - specifically - he might have a vocation to the priesthood (charisma, prayer, intelligence, dedication, etc.).
Assure him of your prayers whatever the Lord's will is for him and offer to chat with him if he should like.

After reading my initial response, my friend wrote back, with permission to use his words in a post, saying:

I believe it is a situation most of us lay people do not encounter often (sadly). For me, I just don't know how to handle it. I am really excited for the possibility, but don't want to come on too strong. I know that if it is God's will, then he will be a priest, but it is just hard to curb the enthusiasm.

I answered:

Your desire is quite right! Write your note to him and let [your wife] take a look at it before you send it; two sets of eyes in cases like this are good and she can help judge as to whether it's too strong (you don't, though, want to be too weak, either).

Finding the right balance will be different with different individuals; some need more of a firm encouragement than others. Personally, my fellow parishioners were played a foundational role in my discernment as they continually suggested to me, "You should think about the priesthood; you'd be a good priest." Repeatedly than offered this suggestion, never forcefully, and always with an encouraging smile.

The task of discerning vocations does not belong solely to those of us who clerics or who are in the consecrated life; the task of discerning vocations belongs to every one who has been baptized into Christ Jesus!

Without knowing it, my friend was fulfilling an obligation made explicit in canon law (canon law is, after all, the Church's theology put in concrete form). What will you do today to encourage a vocation? Who do you see in your parish, your school, your community, who may be called to such a vocation? Don't be afraid to tell them, and don't be afraid to tell them why.

If you want a few pointers, you might read Benedict XVI's Message for the 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations in which he wrote on theme, "Proposing vocations in the local Church."

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