BY FR. JEFFREY KIRBY
Every Christian has a vocation from God. A vocation is a special call that indicates a certain way that a disciple should follow the Lord. As a community of faith, we believe and rejoice in this important claim. It is a claim born from the Church’s encounter and reflection on the words and works of God. As Christians, therefore, it is essential that we speak and teach about vocations.
Vocation: Be Specific
When we talk about vocations within the Church, the focus typically is on vocations to the priesthood and religious life. This emphasis is understandable because these vocations are in service to the community of faith and to our shared discipleship. The exclusive highlighting of only these vocations, however, can lead to a limited understanding of other vocations within the Church and of the necessary service that should mark the priesthood and religious life.
To begin a lesson on vocations, then, we specify our language. When we teach about specific vocations, we need to name those vocations. Rather than saying “We pray for vocations,” we say “We pray for priestly and religious vocations,” We pray for vocations to married life,” or “We pray for vocations to the single life.”
Our language and teaching need to illustrate the diversity of vocations within the Church.
Harvest Activity #1: Matthew 9:35-38
Have a student read Jesus’ comments about the abundant harvest and the few laborers. Then summarize his words so that students understand what’s being said. Ask students to name ways in which people can be laborers in the Lord’s vineyard. Then introduce the teaching on vocations to the students. Explain that every Christian has a vocation, and that each of us needs to say “yes” to the Lord’s call. Have students write answers to this question: Why might there be so few laborers in the Lord’s harvest? Invite students to share their thoughts and then ask if they think people understand what a vocation is. Have students form small groups to discuss what a vocation is and how they can serve in the Lord’s harvest.
Way of Discipleship
When we teach about ordained and religious life vocations, it is essential that we place the topic of vocations within the broader reality of our discipleship to the Lord Jesus Christ. To acknowledge ourselves as disciples is to say that in Jesus Christ we find the meaning and purpose of our lives. We see in Jesus the perfect Savior, Teacher, Friend, Shepherd, and Companion. At the core of a Christian vocation is not solely the question “What do I want to do?” but the more open question, “What does God want of me?” or, more specifically, “What is God calling me to do?”
Christian vocations are distinct but complementary avenues to following Jesus as he calls us to seek him. Because vocations necessarily flow from our discipleship, it is essential that we emphasize what it means to be Christian disciples—what it means to be loved by Jesus; to love and serve Jesus; and to live the ways of prayer, virtue, and ministry.
Help students understand that discipleship teaches us how to listen to the Holy Spirit and to follow Jesus in our everyday lives. Living as Christian disciples, we become accustomed to God’s way of life, and, in the course of time, we hear him when he shows us our vocations. If we are going to find our vocations in the Church, the household of faith, we must be disciples—people of faith.
Harvest Activity #2: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Have a student read the parable of the sower (verses 1-9). Summarize the story so that students understand what’s happening (perhaps using verses 18-23 to help). Have students form small groups and have each group draw the four major areas of the story: birds, rocky ground and sun, thorns, and rich soil. Explain that sometimes God asks us to do things but we let his call fade away (like the seed among the birds, rocky ground and sun, and thorns). Ask students:
* What happens when God’s word fades away? (Responses may include things like racism, war, gossip, bullying, etc.)
* When has God’s word fallen on rich soil and good things have happened? (Responses may include things like acts of kindness, acceptance, forgiveness, etc.)
* How do good actions help us know and hear Jesus? (Compare the activity to human relationships: When students do what their parents ask, they begin to see why their parents ask certain things of them, etc. Explain that this is also how God works with each of us.)
* Is a vocation just about what an individual wants, or is it about what God wants?
* How is being good Christians related to finding our vocations in life?
In their small groups, have students discuss how a vocation helps a person to be rich soil for God’s word, leading to a life of serving God and neighbor.
This activity helps students identify the practical ways of loving and serving the Lord.
When we speak of vocations, we want to accentuate the plural so that students understand that the Lord has blessed the Church with many different vocations. We stress that every vocation is a gift that is needed in the community of faith. As teachers of the faith, we have the responsibility and privilege to explain that every vocation helps both the person and society to become like Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us.
Of the many vocations within the Church, five principal vocations stand out:
* Holy Matrimony: God calls one man and one woman to lifelong vows of love and service to each other and to shepherd the Christian family.
* Holy Orders, Priesthood: God calls a man to teach, sanctify, and serve as a shepherd among the Christian community.
* Holy Orders, Diaconate: God calls a man to a life of devoted service to his people, especially to those who are poor and sick.
* Religious Life: God calls a man or woman to consecrated service to him within a certain spirituality and ministry marked by poverty, chastity, and obedience.
* Single for the Lord: God calls a man or woman to remain single due to a particular work or ministry that he has entrusted to that person in a special way.
Harvest Activity #3: Matthew 13:31-32
Ask a student to read about the mustard seed. Then invite students to talk about why Jesus would have used the example of the mustard seed. Have students name things that must be done for the mustard seed to grow. (Responses might include things like provide water, sunlight, fertilizer, etc.) Explain that God has given each of us a vocation, like the mustard seed, and that we have to nurture our discipleship if we are to recognize and grow into the vocations to which God calls us. Ask students to think about why God gives different vocations and how each vocation can be a mustard seed that eventually helps the Church and society to grow in love and peace. Allow for students to observe a few moments of quiet for reflection and prayer about ways in which they can live as good Christians and grow into their vocations. After several minutes of quiet, invite students (only those who are willing to share) to talk about their reflections and prayers.
Evangelization through Culture
As Catholic Christians, we have always followed the maxim “Evangelize through culture.” So in our efforts to teach about vocations in general and to the ordained or religious life in particular, we allow our teaching to form a certain kind of culture around us and our students.
Within the classroom and the formation program, we can nurture and develop a Christian culture, a culture that provides a context for our own discipleship and for an education in the vocations of the Church.
Our Christian culture consists of certain features, including the liturgy, virtue, social exchange, and customs.
* The liturgy is a rich treasure chest for Christian culture with its cycle of feasts and seasons, the collection of daily Scripture readings, and the expansive collection of ceremonies and rituals (for example, the parts of a church building, liturgical vestments and vessels, and the parts of the Mass).
* Our Christian culture models and encourages the virtues of prayer, a strong work ethic, a demand for excellence, and a commitment to selfless service. It exemplifies the virtues of patience, gentleness, and kindness.
* Our Christian culture sets a high standard of social exchange. It applies acceptable language (avoiding harsh or profane words, gossip, and slander), and it fosters civility with simple expressions like “thank you” and “please.”
* Our Christian culture expresses the interior life through rich and meaningful customs: Advent wreaths, Lenten sacrifices, shoes on St. Nicholas’ Day, bread on St. Anthony’s Day, candles at Candlemas and on St. Blaise’s feast day, and a plethora of other observances and celebrations.
All of these features are important to our teaching. Within a vibrant Christian culture, our discipleship grows and finds inspiration. In such a culture, we can guide young people along their vocational discernment journeys.
Harvest Activity #4: Matthew 13:24-30
Ask a student to read the parable of the weeds among the wheat. Then have students separate into small groups to:
* list the “wheat” and the “weeds” of popular culture
* describe what a Christian culture is like
* discuss what specific things in a true Christian culture would be different from the way they usually are
* consider how their efforts to discern their vocations would be supported by a true Christian culture
Conclude this activity by giving students time to think and pray about personal resolutions they might make to help foster the Christian culture in their learning environments, their families, and their neighborhoods.
In reviewing the different aspects of fostering vocations to the ordained and religious life—and to all vocations—we grow to appreciate how important these lessons are: They are central to understanding our lives as Christian believers. These lessons are not peripheral or lesser truths in our catechetical efforts. Rather, we have the amazing privilege and pressing responsibility to pass on the way of the Lord Jesus. Each of us has accepted the ministry of being a catechist, and so we echo the voice of Christ and the body of believers to the young people in our care. In our echo, we are tasked to teach the essential truths about vocations and God’s plan for each one of us.
In teaching the faith to our students, we stress discipleship with all its challenges and richness. We help students understand that God has a vocation for each one of us. We know and anticipate that God will ask each of us to serve and work in the harvest. The Christian community has a culture that flows from following the way of the Lord Jesus, and this culture helps encourage and animate our openness to God and his will for us. We all need this culture. As catechists, we are the promoters and guardians of our Christian culture to the young members of our Church.
Lessons on vocations and our Christian culture help students see God’s harvest and look for their vocations within that culture.
To Foster Ordained or Religious Life Vocations
* Invite a priest, a deacon, a vowed religious man, and a vowed religious woman to your classroom to form a panel to field students’ questions about their vocational calls. Help students form questions ahead of time.
* Have students research to find saints and blesseds who were ordained men or vowed religious men and women. Have each student write a brief biography about one of these individuals and then form the reports into a short booklet as a reference for your religious education resource library.
* Visit the USCCB website for lesson plans, worksheets, and activities you can use during National Vocation Awareness Week.
Father Jeffrey Kirby, STL, is Vicar of Vocations for the Diocese of Charleston, SC. Father Kirby and principal Marguerite Wertz are the authors of two children’s books on vocations: Becoming Father Bob and Becoming Sister Mary Grace (Signo Press).
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This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, February 2013.
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