In Jesus’ day, the relationship between a rabbi and his followers was established when the follower chose the teacher to guide him in the study of the Torah.
The student-follower took the initiative. In fact, student-followers were even encouraged to choose many teachers to get different viewpoints on the material.
Jesus changed all that. He did the choosing. And the point was not to study, but to be with him and develop a relationship with him. This was revolutionary and it shapes how the Church looks at vocations today. Christ does the choosing and it is always a choice that is, at the heart, about a personal relationship with him in community.
This is why praying in the Church for vocations is so important. “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Matthew 9: 37-38).
We do not do the calling, but we can ask the Lord to do it. We believe Jesus when he says that if we ask we shall receive. As we celebrate World Day of Prayer for Vocations on April 21, it is good to renew the outpouring of prayer to the master of the harvest.
But, it is also important to realize that our faith is not passive and that we simply don’t wait for God to do something. We know that we are called to be co-workers with the Lord. So, in the area of vocations, there is more we can do. We can work to build what our bishops have termed a “culture of vocations” in the Church.
A recent study of never-married Catholic young adults in the U.S. gives us some indications of what works:
- Catholic education. Young men who studied at a Catholic high school are more than six times more likely to consider a religious vocation. Young women who attended a Catholic grade school are more than three times more likely. Supporting Catholic education is important for the development of vocations.
- Participation in parish religious education and youth programs. Women who participated in a parish high school youth program are more than nine times more likely to consider the religious life. For young men, participation in an elementary or middle school program increases their likelihood of consideration of a religious vocation by five times.
- Encouragement from others. Having just one person encourage someone to consider a religious vocation doubles the likelihood that they will do so. And the effect is additive. If three people encourage someone to think about the religious life, they are five times more likely to do so.
- Knowing someone who is in religious life. The data is clear: the more religious an individual knows, the more consideration the individual gives to religious life.
In all these areas personal relationships are key. This should not surprise us. It was key when Jesus called his own disciples too.
Bottom line: a culture of vocations can happen when we pray fervently for vocations AND work to develop an environment where young men and women are encouraged to consider them. God, of course, is the key player. But, we have to do our part too.
Therefore, I encourage all Catholics to do one thing to help build a culture of vocations in our land. The possibilities are endless, but here are a few ideas to help prime the pump: include vocations in your Mass intentions, encourage one person whom you think might have a call to religious life to think and pray about it, have a priest or religious over for dinner, write an email to your pastor thanking him for his latest homily, or go yourself on a discernment weekend retreat. Do your part in celebration of World Day of Prayer for Vocations!
For more information and resources regarding World Day of Prayer for Vocations, please visit the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.
Fr. John Guthrie is the Associate Director for the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.