The Vocation Basics
“Vocation” means “call.” As Catholics, we believe God calls individuals to fulfill certain roles in the Church, both for their own holiness, and the good of the entire Body of Christ.
Holiness is Our Common Goal: Holiness is everyone’s primary vocation. Holiness means trying to be like Jesus. It means being a “whole” person: striving for virtue, avoiding sin, and living a life of love. After the decision to follow Christ and seriously pursue holiness, your vocation is the most important decision in life.
Holy Marriage: Most people are called to marriage — to wholeheartedly love their spouses and to joyfully welcome children. The purpose of marriage is for a man and woman to help each other get to heaven, and to teach their children to do the same. Like any vocation, marriage must be discerned, not assumed.
Consecrated Life: Both men and women can join religious orders such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, etc. The life and work of religious orders varies greatly — some are primarily devoted to prayer; others work actively in schools, hospitals, orphanages, etc. Common to all religious orders are the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Priesthood: Priests bring Jesus to people and people to Jesus through preaching and the sacraments. Priests are very active as they counsel people, teach classes, prepare homilies, administer parishes, and much more. Many surveys show that priests are among the happiest people in the world! Deacons, too, share in the sacrament of Holy Orders.
Dedicated Single Life: Some people serve God as single people, without marrying or making special vows. While not a “vocation” in a strict theological sense, single people “contribute greatly to the good of the human family” (CCC 2231). “Some live their situation in the spirit of the Beatitudes, serving God and neighbor in exemplary fashion” (CCC 1658). There are many single people who serve the Church with incredible generosity.
How Parents Can Foster Vocations
Imagine asking your son what he wants to be when he grows up, and he answers, “I want to be a priest!” What would your reaction be? Would you be worried or elated — or somewhere in between?
The truth is that God has a plan for each of your children; he wants them to be happy even more than you do! And their true happiness is found in discovering God’s plan for their lives—their vocation — and following it wholeheartedly.
So if you’re truly concerned about your children’s well-being, it makes sense to help them discern their vocations, whether to marriage, priesthood, or religious life.
Here are some simple ways to foster openness to God’s call:
1. Snuggle up and read a story. Sometimes the simplest ideas are best! Add some books about famous saints to your bedtime reading. There are dozens of fascinating, age-appropriate stories of saints who were priests and religious. There’s even a comic book about St. John Paul II as a child!
2. Watch a better movie. When it’s time for family movie night, take a pass on Spy Kids 4 and check out A Mission to Love (the life of St. John Bosco). There are tons of other Catholic films that depict heroic and interesting priests and religious. The conversation afterwards is far more meaningful than which explosion was the biggest!
3. Set the record straight. Media depictions of dating and sexuality are often opposed to authentic love. So when a TV show sends the wrong message, set the record straight about what leads to real happiness. Especially around teens, defend the sacrament of marriage.
4. Play dress up! Just as children “play house” and pretend to be moms and dads, help them imagine the life of a priest, brother, or sister. A sheet or towel can serve as a sister’s habit. A Ritz cracker makes a good host for Mass. This kind of play normalizes what can otherwise seem to be an “other-worldly” vocation. Plus it’s a lot of fun!
5. Pray from the heart. In your family prayers, pray for more priests and religious. Let your kids hear you praying for their futures. “Lord, watch over Simon today and give him the grace to grow up to be a strong man of God. Keep him close to You, always in Your perfect will.”
6. Talk about vocations. Speak openly about vocations to marriage, priesthood, and religious life. From the earliest age, make it clear that happiness in life is following God’s plan. Tell kids that priests have an awesome job because they bring us the sacraments. Teach them that religious brothers and sisters make special vows to live like Jesus.
7. Befriend priests & religious. Invite a priest, sister, or brother to dinner at your home. Personal relationships are key. When kids are comfortable around Fr. John or Sister Margaret, they’re far more likely to be comfortable with the idea of a priestly or religious vocation when they grow older.
An Open Attitude
If your child expresses interest in the priesthood or religious life, be supportive. If you’re excited, don’t push too hard. If you’re apprehensive, trust in God’s plan. The best thing you can say is, “Whatever God wants for you, I want for you, too.”
Joy Mixed with Reluctance
Many Catholic parents have some reluctance about their children becoming priests or religious — at least at first. Typically, parents’ concerns fade as they witness their child’s vocation mature, and his or her happiness grow.
Parents Speak Their Minds
“When my little boy plays Mass, it brings joy to my heart. His older sisters play along, even though they’re trying not to laugh. Who knows if he’ll ever be a priest? It’s just great that his little heart is in the right place. I love that.” ~ Amanda C.
“It almost broke my heart when Julie joined the convent. But when I visited her a year later, I could see the happiness and joy just radiating from her. My sadness melted away in an instant. I knew she had found her way in life. In retrospect, I’m glad my plans didn’t work out. As hard as it is for me to admit, God had a better plan for her.” ~ Carl R.
“Our son joined a religious order right after college. We were happy for him, but then he left, saying it just wasn’t his call. But I think it was good that he explored it… He was peaceful when he went in, and peaceful when he left. His mother and I are fine with his decision either way.” ~ Salvatore S.
“I wanted grandchildren so badly. I hid my disappointment when Colin went to seminary, thinking his interest probably wouldn’t last. By the time his ordination came along a few years later, God had really worked on me. I couldn’t have been prouder. His priesthood has been the greatest gift God has ever given our family.” ~ Jenni P.
Young Catholics: The Most Important Decision You’ll Ever Make
If you were about to make one decision that would dramatically impact the rest of your life, how would you go about it?
If you were contemplating a cross-country move, you’d probably learn everything you could about the new city. If you were choosing a career, you’d visit the career counseling office at your college. Heck, even if you were buying a new flat-screen TV, you’d do some serious research.
But there’s one decision that’s far more important than any of these. In fact, it’s so important that it can’t properly be called a decision.
We’re talking about your vocation — your God-given mission in life. God etches our vocations into our very souls, and thus a vocation is not just a matter of choice, like choosing a career, but rather more like a discovery. Finding your vocation is like realizing something about yourself that has been there all along.
But God plants your vocation so deep in your soul, sometimes it’s hard to see. In fact, many people — even Catholics — never even consider looking for it at all. Sometimes marriage is assumed to be the “default” vocation. But God calls some people to a different life — a life committed solely to serving God’s people as a priest.
Discovering your true vocation takes careful deliberation — a process the Church calls “discernment,” which is derived from the Latin word meaning to “sift through.” All vocations — marriage, priesthood, or the religious life — require a diligent discernment.
Here are ten tried-and-true ways to discern God’s calling for you:
- Pray and Listen asking the Lord daily to show you his will.
- Pray the Rosary asking for the intercession of Mary, Mother of priests.
- Pray a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament regularly.
- Attend Mass frequently (daily if possible) and receive Communion.
- Go to Confession on a consistent basis.
- Read Scripture and meditate on God’s Word.
- Talk to a priest you find approachable and ask for spiritual advice.
- Contact the Vocation Director.
- Talk to seminarians when they come home for the holidays.
- Become involved in your parish.
These are practical ideas that really work. You’ll notice that by doing these things, not only will you hear God’s voice more clearly, you’ll begin to grow in holiness – which is everyone’s primary vocation.
But the best thing you can do to discover your vocation is to simply be open to the will of God. Stop asking what you want out of life, and start asking what God wants. Remember that Jesus wants you to be happy even more than you do. And if He calls you to priesthood, trust that He will bring you fulfillment.
Discerning your vocation — the state of life that God is calling you to for the rest of your life — is truly the most important discovery you’ll ever make.