This past week, as the Church in the United States observed National Vocations Awareness Week, I was reminded that everyone has a personal calling from God and that hearing his call requires the intimacy of prayer.
My own vocation to the priesthood began during elementary school and blossomed in my college years at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The culture of the late 60s was searching for its identity, trying to find it in the sexual revolution and the casting aside of traditional beliefs. Like many of my peers, I questioned my faith, yet I never stopped searching for the truth.
I began with Eastern religions and worked my way back to a strong belief in Christianity. One day, during a communion service I was attending at the Wesley Foundation, I had a realization. I asked the others what they believed about the Eucharist, and they said, “Oh, you know, it’s just something spiritual, a sign.” And I thought, “The Catholic Church has the real thing!”
I wanted the real thing, the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, and that hunger brought me back into the Church. I went to confession, to Mass, and began to reflect seriously about the priesthood. My path is not the same as many of 75 the seminarians we are blessed to have studying for our archdiocese today, but there are some fundamental elements that every person discerning their vocation, and those raising or forming children, should be aware of.
The seeds of a person’s vocation to any of the states in life are typically nurtured in the family. The future priests, religious and parents of our archdiocese will learn from their parents and extended family about the importance of faith, the Fatherhood of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit and the joy of knowing and being redeemed by Jesus through his Church.
Father Jim Crisman, our director of priestly vocations, describes the typical pattern of discovering a vocation as, “the family makes it possible for the young person to hear God’s call, which happens within the parish and in personal prayer.”
Surveys of men and women who have been called to the religious life or priesthood show that many of them first sensed God drawing them to their vocation by the age of 11. This means that parents, grandparents, teachers, anyone who has a role in forming children in the faith, should not be afraid to encourage them to ask, “What is God calling you to do with your life?”
The response to that question may take years to develop, or perhaps they will be receptive to God’s call right away. What matters is that we create the conditions for that call to take root. A few practical ways to do this are to spend time praying together as a family, show your children how to begin a relationship with Jesus, and frequent the sacraments, especially confession and the Eucharist, since they are the sacraments that help us encounter Jesus in an intimate way.
Above all, be confident that God is reaching out to touch the hearts of young men and women and giving them vocations, no matter the circumstances. We must help our young people understand that God has a unique, particular plan for every human being that only he or she can fulfill, and that this path will bring them true happiness.
This year, a young man named Peter Srsich began his spirituality year at St. John Vianney Seminary. If Peter had his way, he would have entered seminary earlier, but God had a different plan. He first heard a clear call to the priesthood during a Focus 11 retreat at Mullen High School, but his journey began before that, when a religion teacher challenged him to learn about the faith and to live it.
Then, as he was nearing graduation from high school, Peter learned that he had a form of blood cancer. He was told that the rigors of seminary life—years of intense formation in the spiritual, human, intellectual and academic spheres—would be too difficult for him to attempt while battling cancer. But two years later Peter had beaten his cancer and was accepted into our archdiocesan seminary. The Lord used that battle to form Peter into an even more peaceful, joy-filled young man who is able to pursue the call God has given to him.
Just as Peter’s religion teacher invited him to be open to faith and God’s plan, may every one of us ask the Lord how he is calling us to guide others to him. May we devote our lives to listening in the quiet of hearts to the Lord and growing in intimacy with him!