Letting Him Call, Having Them Answer (on respecting and encouraging their vocations)

Ever since I can remember I've been somewhat uncomfortable with the oft touted idea of encouraging or promoting vocations in the Church. At least, I am in the way it seems to be meant. The phrase is so often used and for me, I find it a bit…forced. Perhaps part of it is the confusing language of it all. We talk simultaneously of vocation as something that every person has to discover in their journey to heaven (and that, of course, should be encouraged) but when it is used practically, so many times it is only used to specifically speak of a higher calling to the priesthood or religious life.  

Everyone has a vocation, a calling from God.
God's well taken care of that.

The Church Herself is very clear that the vocation of a person refers to the calling that each and every person has from God. And if a vocation is what we claim it is in a general sense, a calling by God for each particular person to pursue holiness via a particular way of life, then I'm not sure we need to be encouraging God to call people to specific vocations. We can assume He already is, you know? I don't think He's forgotten about the need for priests and religious and faithful Marriages. He's calling. My job as a mother is to do everything and anything I can to help them develop a heart that listens and desires to follow that invitation.

The Catechism speaks clearly to this:

2253 Parents should respect and encourage their children’s vocations. They should remember and teach that the first calling of the Christian is to follow Jesus.

I love how that is phrased, to respect and encourage. Respecting implies that it is not up to us to decide or persuade one way or the other. And we are to encourage but the wording makes it clear that to encourage means that we actively and sincerely desire for our children to follow what the Lord is inviting them to - whatever and wherever that may be. It is THEIR vocation. And discerning that vocation is only done through FIRST becoming a disciple of Christ. The phrasing is so beautifully worded to detach us parents from our will and allow the Lord to work how He wants in the life of each of our children. They are His first.

That kind of takes a huge burden off of the whole vocation thing a bit, doesn't it? I mean in a certain sense. He's the one calling, not us. It's not really about us at all. Our job is to bring them to Him and our one sincere desire should be that our children follow Him. That's it. Whatever, wherever that may be. Our primary job is to invite them into relationship with Jesus and help them learn to hear His voice. He'll take care of the rest.

So how do we bring our children into that relationship and prepare them for whatever God may be calling them to?

We're certainly no experts in all of this but we feel led to do it in several ways:

Careful Conversation and No Pressure
In discussions with our children, we are very, very careful to qualify our statements about vocation and not 'favor' one or the other. Perhaps a big part of my trepidation with vocation talk and children is my own experience growing up. It wasn't anyone's fault, of course, but for years all the talk of the "vocation crisis" within the Church and the push, push, push for more priests and religious really began to turn into an interior pressure I felt strongly. The pressure was turned up through well-intentioned questions and conversations and I began to feel I owed it to God and the Church to enter religious life  (and I know I am not alone in this). It became a battle in my heart and I began to view the vocation of Marriage as a sort of "failure" or second best option.

With our children we try very hard to use specific language whenever discussing their vocations. "If God is calling you to become x…" and we are very clear to them that we want them to do whatever it is that God wants and that we don't have any stake or favorite in the matter. All options are presented and valued and we speak often about what God may want them to do. While we do hope and expect them to follow God's call for them, we don't place any pressure on what we think that call might be for that is between them and Him. Several of them have expressed desire to become priests and while we very much encourage that exploration (they have a Mass kit and play vestments, for example) we intentionally stay a bit neutral on the matter and express equal excitement for other future plans they may also happen to express.

A Joyful Witness to the Options
Of course, part of their discernment will be even knowing what options are available and knowing that within each of those callings lies joy and the potential for holiness. In this way they can better see where and what God might be stirring in their hearts. We are blessed to have lots of faithful married couples in our group of friends to provide that witness of joyful married love and have the same with single friends. However, we do feel we lack a bit in having an equivalent from the priesthood or religious life in our local area. We pray for it, though, and we are blessed that the priests we do know locally are very friendly and the boys love to greet them and chat with them after Mass. But our ideal would be to have a greater exposure for them to priests and religious who are close to our family and alive and joyful in the Faith, coming to family gatherings and being involved in our lives just as our other friends are. 

A Strong and Attached Parent Relationships
Every man is called to some sort of fatherhood and every woman is called to some sort of motherhood.  Whatever specific vocation they are called to, they will need an example of that in their lives to know what true fatherhood and motherhood looks like and they will be better prepared for any vocation if they come to it with that knowledge in their hearts. I feel a bit of guilty relief for the moment in having all boys because I get let off the hook a bit. The example of my husband is crucial for them in developing a healthy understanding of fatherhood, whether they are called to the priesthood or marriage. My husband takes this responsibility very seriously and recognizes the importance of his role in our sons' emotional and spiritual maturity for its own sake but also so they can answer God's call in a healthy and emotionally mature way. That means praying with them, wrestling with them, counseling them, comforting them, forgiving them, leading them, protecting them, throwing the baseball with them. In short, being a really good dad. I guess if this little one in utero is a girl, I may have to up my game a bit ;)

Fostering a Life of Service
Every vocation is about serving. In order for them to be prepared for that, we try to foster an attitude of service in our family. We have chores and we expect the older children to serve the younger ones as they are the "least of these" in our domestic church. We try (though admittedly it is an uphill battle…heck, we're still learning it ourselves!) to help them learn that this life is not all about them and that their life is a gift to be used in the service of others and that only in that will they find true happiness and fulfillment. As they get older the boys are expected and encouraged to serve at the altar and we'd like to do more to engage in different works of service and charity outside of our home. As they grow, I'm excited for them to continue those works on their own via mission trips, volunteer work, and other opportunities that may present themselves.

Prayer for Them 
My husband and I pray often for our children's vocations, first and foremost that they know him intimately and learn to love Him and desire to follow Him anywhere. We then pray that they will learn to hear and answer His voice well. When we remember, we pray for their potential future spouses, parishes, or communities as well. I imagine as they get older and their discernment becomes more serious and decisions more imminent, those prayers will only increase in amount and fervor.

Prayer With Them
Part of fostering a sincere openness to His will is helping our children develop their own personal and unique relationship with Him and that can only be done through prayer. So we pray with our children as a family and individually. We try to teach them how to pray, both in formal prayers and in spontaneous prayer. As they grow, they will (hopefully!) learn how to quiet their own hearts and listen for His voice and develop that unique relationship with God outside of us. Our goal for them is to answer their first vocation, to follow Him. Discerning their specific vocation well can only flow from that personal relationship.

Limiting the Outside Noise
We also recognize that just as there are ways to foster an ability to hear His voice, there are (probably many more) ways to drown out that voice. So we are very careful with the "noise" which we expose our children to and we try our best to keep out the influences of the world that will make it harder for them to hear His voice well. We limit the influences and messages of pop culture and we distance ourselves from fads and the ever insistent pressure to follow the crowd, even if in small ways. We want them to have a firm grasp on their own identities and become confident in their true selves. We are involved in their choice of friends and will do our best to foster relationships that will help them become whoever God wants them to be. We try to train their eyes and ears to recognize the beautiful even in the simplest of ways and limit their exposure to the ugly, especially in this critical period of conscience formation. If the One Who calls them is Beauty itself, then we want them to have a good foundation of how to recognize it so we try to follow our gut when not letting them hear, watch, read, or play with certain things.

A Frequent Sacramental Life
Frequent Confession, Eucharist, and exposure to His Word are incomparable in maintaining an openness to His will in their hearts. The graces of the Sacraments and Scripture are so powerful and the more they are in His Presence through these ways, the more they will learn to hear what is (and what is not) His voice. We bring them to Him and He does the work.  

As I said, we're certainly not experts, but we are doing our best to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and relying on the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage to help us in all of this. And we also know well that there are no guarantees. Our job - our vocation - is to lead them to Him the best we can and they will always have the freedom to accept or reject His invitation. Sobering? Yes, in some ways. But also freeing. Because He loves them more than we ever possibly could and He, Love Himself, is infinitely better at the calling than we could ever hope to be.  

I'm joining with Gina at Someday (hopefully) They'll Be Saints in her vocation series Love's Calling.  Please click over to see more posts in the series!
Thank you, Gina!


  1. I have always been a bit sad as an adult that, growing up in the 60s and 70s, no one ever talked to me, not even the Dominican sisters who taught me, about a religious vocation. I have no idea if I would have chosen it, but the door was never opened, at least not in any worldly way.
    Many Catholic children today don't encounter sisters at all, especially personally. I think, for that reason, it's a lot more difficult for God to call young girls to a religious vocation than boys. Girls are told they can do anything they want, but a friend once told me when I mentioned that my little five-year-old daughter said she wanted to be a nun (just for clarity, at 13 she says she no longer does), "Oh, that would be terrible" as if she had said she wanted to be, I don't even know, the worst thing you could imagine. Like being a sister would prevent her from having any life at all -- she'd be chained to a cell.
    In our culture, girls are encouraged to be what men are. Does anyone say to their daughter, would you like to be a mother and stay at home? No, it's go to college and be doctors and nurses and CPAs and CEOs. Every vocation should be an individual's choice, but unless a choice is presented as such, it's difficult to choose it.

    1. Oh, that response to your daughter is so sad. Not really surprising, unfortunately, but still sad.

  2. I love this!! Thank you so much for sharing and being a wonderful part of the series!

  3. Keeping our kids close to church - through Mass and sacraments and altar serving has been such a rewarding blessing for our family. So many times I think it's my job to teach them everything, but letting go a little, letting God do His work while providing a safe and sound home allows them to grow at their own pace to their own calling.

    I also felt like choosing to be a sister was the best choice, and marriage was the second best choice. So glad to hear someone else say that!

    And right now we have one son who wants to be a priest (because he doesn't want to EVER kiss a girl!) and a daughter who says she might be a nun because having babies hurts! Oh my, they are so funny, but I love that it is through "normal" family discussions all the time - no pressure!

    Although, as I'm sure you understand...with 5 boys, I hope God wants one of them to serve as a priest :)

    1. Ha, I love their reasoning! There are certainly days I'd like to run away to the convent, too, but I'm thinking my motivations aren't all that virtuous ;) Yes, it would certainly be pretty amazing to have a priest in the family (just for the Sacrament convenience alone ;) And yeah, I really do think normal family discussions are really the most powerful way to instill that understanding of vocation, too.

  4. This is great! In my family it was always assumed that we'd all get married - there was NEVER any mention of any sort of religious vocation, even though my parents always talked about how my dad wanted to be a monk and my mom wanted to be an Episcopal priest before they met each other... I try really hard not to encourage any particular vocation as "the best" because it's gotta be what they're actually called to be! And right now their ideas change on a daily (or hourly) basis :) Cecilia and I had the SWEETEST discussion about vocations the other day, and she wanted desperately to know WHY God hasn't told her yet (at the ripe old age of 4) what her vocation is!

    1. Ha! I mean, really, she's got to get going on this holiness thing NOW! She is the funniest! So interesting about your parents!!

  5. These were great thoughts, Mary! We approach the vocations topic very similarly. In our morning offering with the kids, we have tacked on a few extra intentions - some of them being, "for all priests, religious, seminarians, holy families, holy marriages, holy single people" In general conversations with our kids, we put a lot of emphasis on "I wonder what God wants you to do with your life?!" instead of the standard, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

    1. Yes! I love the emphasis on knowing from the get-go that our life is meant to serve somehow!

  6. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd! That was my thought as I read this. Well said, Mary!


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