As vocations to the priesthood and religious life have declined, our understanding of what fosters vocations has increased. The challenge is now to turn these hard lessons into the good practices that will help us as a Church to grow in the vitality and joy of the Gospel.
In the years prior to and shortly after Vatican II many people believed that a vocation was something that only a few people "had," and they then entered the seminary or a religious house of formation. Everybody else got married or remained single.
In the last few decades one of the most prominent features of Western society has been individualism. Technology, consumerism, smaller families and media have all had major impact on the way we interpret our world. We are now living in a "Me" culture and not a "We" culture.
In an individualistic society it's mostly about "Me" and my freedom and options. The belief that we have a vocation from God offends because it seems to violate personal freedom and autonomy.
The popular modern text message abbreviation "yolo" for "you only live once" underlines the modern anxiety that leads people to seek first their own personal satisfaction before they die.
The common response to vocation is avoidance because at first we only feel anxiety, loneliness and scarcity. On the contrary, embracing one's vocation is the way to peace, community and abundance.
In 2002 a congress was held in Montreal to reflect on vocations to ordained ministry and consecrated life. Bishops, religious women and men, priests and young people from all over North America produced a pastoral plan to foster a "vocation culture" in North America.
The difference from the understanding of vocation from earlier times was that now the emphasis is not on a chosen few but that every single Catholic person has a particular vocation which is a gift of God and given for God's people.
At present there is little that we can do to change our secular culture in North America. But we can change the culture in our Church to one that professes that every person has a unique invitation to know, love and serve God with the gift of our whole lives.
Central to this is an experience of God's love in Jesus Christ. Our response to this gift of love is thanksgiving that takes the shape of opening our hearts to whatever God would have us do in this world and in the Church. This belief takes its power from the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and dissolves "you only live once" fear.
Do you have the courage to assist a friend or relative to explore and discern a religious vocation? Is each parish community in our diocese willing to take an active role? What steps are needed? I personally have always believed men and women who respond to a religious calling are "space-aged pioneers."
How can you help? Sharing your own faith journey, encouraging and inviting friends or relatives to consider a religious vocation. Praying as a family; as a parish; with individuals discerning a religious calling.
Consider inviting a priest or sister to come and share their story with you. Sponsor men or women from your parish to explore a religious calling. Participate as a family in faith-based activities.
If you believe you are being called, talk with your local priest or contact your diocesan office. Seek a spiritual director. Participate in Mass, read and pray with Scripture. Journal. Consider attending a "come and see" event held in your diocese or by a religious community, or attend a vocation fair.
Explore various communities by finding information available on the web (www.vocations.ca). Don't be afraid to ask questions.
Creating a new "culture of vocation" in our Church requires a new vision. It also requires many specific actions so the vision will take on flesh in the day-to-day flow of our lives. This blend of the mythic and specific will yield results for this one reason: It is true.
The truth is that God Almighty does love each and every person and that through Jesus Christ our love is invited to specific acts of service and compassion by the whispering of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
Some of those whisperings invite young people to the adventure of a total gift of their lives in a deep communion of love and service in the world and the Church as priests, nuns, monks, sisters and brothers.
Trust the Holy Spirit and look forward to an adventure of love, truth and peace.