I’ve been thinking a lot about vocations lately. We are all aware how many of our priests have had to cocoon during this pandemic because their age puts them in a vulnerable position.
Commentators have suggested that this time has given us a glimpse of where the Church in Ireland may be in the coming years with a radical reduction in the number of priests and a consequent reduction in the availability of the Sacraments.
It is not surprising then that there have been many prayers for vocations included in the Prayers of the Faithful over these months. It is important that we pray, that we ask the Holy Spirit to inspire people to consider the idea of a vocation. We must also act. What type of Church do we need to be to awaken vocations? And what sort of vocations are we looking for?
I think it is essential that we offer people an experience of a living relationship with God. I am wary of the idea of reinstating the ‘obligation’ to go to Mass. I believe that our presence at the Eucharist serves the Church best when it comes from a deep desire to be present rather than from a sense of obligation. So although religious practice is important it needs to be rooted in something deeper, in a personal relationship with God. What nurtures such a relationship?
Above all – prayer. And I have to confess my own bias on this, I think Scripture is vital. It is so important that we come to know who Jesus is, what he taught, how he acted, what mattered to him and that we spend time reflecting on this and considering the implications for our own lives.
Prayer nurtures in us that sense of God’s presence. God is not distant but is intimately interwoven through the fabric of our lives. Having an awareness of God active in our lives makes it more likely that we will take seriously the idea that God will engage us, invite us, call us to more.
So prayer is vital and so too is the mission of the Church. In the Gospels we see Jesus sending his followers out to teach and heal in his name. Baptism and confirmation are the sacraments that are meant to make disciples of us, mission us. If people are to take the idea of vocation seriously then there needs to be that sense of Faith as something which transforms us and through us, the world we live in.
There is a critical question which deserves our consideration: “How as a person of Faith can I make a difference in the world?” If we are looking at young adults today and hoping they might consider the idea of a vocation are we providing them with the experience of a living Gospel, a Church which makes a difference in the world? Are we too insular, too focused on the internal workings of the Church as an institution?
Our Pope is involved in conversations but are we?”
Do people in our parishes experience themselves as sent out, commissioned to transform the world? As Church are we involved in conversations about justice, the environment, economics, poverty, racism? Our Pope is – but are we paying attention?
If we want to encourage vocations I believe we have to be a Spirit-filled, outward looking Faith community committed to making a real difference in the world and in the lives of people. So then, what is a vocation? Put simply, it is accepting the invitation to live a life that desires to give glory to God. That can take many shapes and if we want to have vibrant parishes moving forwards we need to have a broad vision of vocation.
Whether our vocation is as priest or parent, religious sister or engineer, shop assistant or doctor the key factor is accepting that Faith gives ultimate meaning and direction to our lives. Perhaps if we are to awaken vocations in others we need first to embrace our own.