Yesterday (June 4) the Diocese held a Vocations Discernment Day at the Catholic Center. The turnout of young people was better than expected. We had representatives from three communities of religious women and one community of religious men as well as three diocesan priests in attendance. The event provided young people with information about the concept of vocation, how a vocation is discerned and how one becomes a Priest or Religious. After a couple of videos were shown and some personal vocation stories shared, the young people were provided with a chance to ask questions and talk about their own experiences trying to discover their path in life.
One comment made by some of the young people was the lack of information about vocations to the Priesthood, Religious Life, Marriage or the Single Life available in Catholic high schools. Although the curriculum of the Religion courses provides opportunities to explore the subject of vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life the students present claimed few teachers did so. The topics of Marriage and the single life are examined but often presented more as a lifestyle choice than a vocation.
After visiting all the Catholic high schools in our area to make presentations about vocations, I was not surprised by their comment. Some religion teachers seem reluctant to do more than teach what is in the textbook. I realize most of them lack the kind of theological training I received yet there are resources available from the Church for them to learn more about their faith. When personal opinions are offered they often question or contradict Church teaching. Many teachers seem uncomfortable talking about their own faith experience and show limited enthusiasm for explaining or defending Catholic doctrine (especially when it goes against popular opinion). There are many faithful religion teachers in our board. I just wish we had more of them.
Among the high school chaplains, the situation is a little better. Some will request information about vocations or publicly display the literature (posters, brochures) I provide for them. They will engage students interested in talking about vocations in a serious way. A few will refer a student interested in the Priesthood or Religious Life to me. Yet, there are others who show less enthusiasm for promoting vocations. The posters I provide don’t stay up on the bulletin board very long and phone calls are not returned. I realize promoting vocations is not their top priority but it warrants attention.
Part of my challenge as Director of Vocations is to get Catholics to realize vocations are everyone’s business. Catholic schools are where most young people encounter their faith. They provide an excellent place for a student to learn about himself/herself and discern what God is calling him/her to do with his/her life. Chaplains and Religion teachers play a vital role in this process. Yet, so do other teachers, Vice Principals, Principals and Senior Administration at the Board Office. They do so not by the courses they teach or programs they administer but by listening to students and providing witness testimony. Whether the vocation being discerned is to the Priesthood, Religious Life, Marriage or Single Life, its discernment requires interaction and support from others.
Sadly, the students who came to our Discernment Day represent a tiny fraction of those who attend Catholic schools in our area. They stand out because they are serious about their faith, go to Mass on Sundays and participate in parish life. Based on their comments, they are intelligent, articulate and motivated individuals. They have enormous potential to make our Church and world a better place. At this time, only God knows to what vocation they are called.
Those in ordained ministry or undergoing formation for it can become cynical about young people. Many are hostile towards religion and influenced by individualism, materialism and moral relativism. Yet, I wonder how many of these young people are desperately trying to find the purpose of their lives and don’t know how to do so. The students I met on Saturday have not reached their final goal, but have discovered how to get there. It is a privilege to accompany them on their journey. I wish more people would help them.