Building a Culture of Vocations is not about recruitment to ordained ministry or religious life but about exploring and responding to the call that God has placed in ones heart. This can only lead to fullness of life.
Along with being named pastor of St. Willibrord’s parish last September, I have also been named co-vocations director of Montreal. One of the projects that I’m working on is to allow my large rectory to become a house of discernment for Men who are willing to commit a year to explore God’s call. During this year these men will either work full time or study at the university, while living full time in the rectory where they can volunteer in the various ministries of our parish. They will participate in regular communal prayer, such as the divine office, as well as weekday masses whenever possible. They can also participate in our various catechetical programs that teach the faith to children and adults.
The idea is that the more they experience ministry and prayer, the more they seek holiness in service and communion, the more they will discover weather or not they are called to the priesthood.
Recently I was at a vocations meeting down town and we were looking at the issues that came to light at the Montreal vocations congress in 2002.
We recognized that everyone has a vocation, we are all called by God to be his children, disciples of His Son Jesus. Russel Shaw co-author of the book Personal Vocation shares that their are three understanding of the word: Vocation.
1) The universal christian vocation given at baptism and confirmation. The priesthood of the laity, that gives life and love and calls everyone to holiness and service of our Lord.
2) The state of life recognized by the Church, that gives structure and a place where the universal christian vocation can be lived out, such as Marriage, Celibacy, Ordained Ministry and Consecrated Life.
3)Personal vocation: the unique and personal combination of commitments, interactions, obligations, opportunities, of strengths and weaknesses, in which our Christian vocation and state of life concretely expresses itself. Each person is called to discern, and commit, and live out the unique will of God for their lives.
Russel Shaw reminds us that Every person is called by God by name. The real challenge then is not about knowing if you have a vocation, but of identifying the unique vocation that God has truly given you.
The issue then becomes that of discernment. How does one discern ones vocation? As I stated at the beginning, building a culture of vocations is not about recruitment of potential candidates for priestly life or consecrated life, it is about discerning the personal will of God for ones life, within which the state of life and the the universal call to holiness is answered.
As summarized by Fr Ray Lafontaine, pastor of St Monica’s parish in Montreal, the Montreal Vocations Congress offered five paths for discernment.
1) to pray: we are not only called to ‘pray for vocation’. We as Christians are called to become a prayerful people, to invite the youth to share in our spirituality and prayer life, to build homes, communities, and parishes that are schools of prayer and holiness.
2) to evangelize: to build our communities and parishes on Gospel values, to nurture our faith through holy scripture and the rich theological and spiritual foundation of the church. Vocation discernment then would be an integral part of our catechisis programs for youth, where the young can ask the question what does God will for my life?
3) to experience: the young state clearly, “how can we choose something we have not seen and do not know?” Parents like wise state, “how can we support or promote something we that we do not understand?” According to age, understanding, and personal and spiritual maturity level, we need to allow youth to experience concretely what it means to actively participate in the Church’s mission. This is done on four levels: a) liturgy/worship b) community/belonging c)Service/charity and d)witness and proclamation of faith.
4) to guide and counsel: everyone needs a mentor, someone who has taken the road and can guide others in the right path, someone who is happy and true to their own vocation, who gives witness themselves of personal integrity in following their personal vocation. It is said that most youth have not received spiritual direction or spiritual mentoring, nor have they had significant contact with a priest or consecrated person. How can they discern then a life that they have not seen or known. The best and most effective way to promote different states of life like the priesthood and consecrated life as viable option for happiness and fulfillment is to allow young adults to meet happy and fulfilled people who witness to this reality.
5) to invite: the Christian vocation is a journey of discernment, of choice, and commitment, that should lead to holiness and fulfillment.
These five paths of discernment are not only the job of priests but of all the faithful. We are all called to foster a vocations culture, to help each other find the personal calling to follow God’s will.
This project to build a house of discernment for the priesthood will encompass all five of these paths, and hopefully help men discover the state of life God wills for them, and as well help them on their personal call to holiness.
God has not stopped calling, we all need to start listening and responding. Have you heard God’s call?
Fr Stephen Otvos
Pastor. Co-Vocations director