How families can support their children's vocation choices
An evening of prayer for vocations with parents and parishioners
7:00 p.m. Arrival/greeting/ opening prayer
Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, we gather together this evening to pause and give thanks to you for your presence among us. We are truly grateful for the opportunity to take some time to reflect on the call of young men and women to enter religious life. As we pause this evening to pray for those who are discerning a call to dedicate their lives to follow you, may we pray for your guidance and inspiration to walk with them in support, encouragement, and prayer. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
7:20 p.m. Opening Talk – sample included below by Beth Mahoney
8:10 p.m. Break-out session in small groups
8:25 p.m. Discussion with large group
8:45 p.m. Summary and action steps
Gracious God, we give you thanks for the young men and women who so generously are considering a life of service and dedication in a religious community. We pray that they will always know of your love for them. As loved ones and supporters, may we always be a sign of strength, acceptance, and hope for them. May we delight in their joys and offer consolation in their sorrows. As we leave this evening, help us remain close to you, and be signs of your encouraging and merciful love to others. We ask this in your name. Amen.
Sample opening talk
Being about the Work of my Father:
How families can support their children’s vocation choices
by Beth Mahoney
What does Jesus teach us about discerning a call to follow him? Let us begin by looking at Jesus’ childhood. Within the family he witnessed his earthly father at work; he learned the family trade. He experienced his mother who nurtured him by teaching him, praying with him, and loving him. Yet there were difficult times. When Jesus was an infant, the family had to leave their homeland and flee for safety in Egypt (Matthew 2:13-23). Jesus, learned early on that life in a family can be joyful but there are moments of suffering and pain as well.
When he was a teen Jesus was found in the temple, listening to the teachers and asking them questions. When Mary approach her son and asked: Didn’t you not know that we would be worried? Jesus responded: Didn’t you know that I would be about my father’s work? (Luke 2:41-52). This tension between a mother and her child is very real and something that we all experience in family life, particularly when it comes to the life choices of our children.
How do we reconcile the desires, wishes, goals of our children when their plans might not be what we had in mind for them? It starts with communication and develops into respect. Like Mary and Jesus we must learn to learn to listen and respect the needs, desires, and duties of the other.
When a person is discerning their vocation, it is a special graced-filled time for them and their families. One needs to spend time in prayer and contemplative reflection and dialog with community members, family members, and friends. It is a time to listen to the call of God. It is a time for conversion, not only for the one considering religious life, but for those around them. God’s transforming presence surrounds the entire process. This process of discernment invites the “discerner,” to tap into the core of their being: deepen their prayer life, become energized for service, and awaken in them the desire to grow in their love of God.
When we reflect on the Holy Family’s experiences as Jesus was gaining an understanding of his mission, we recognize the same moments of confusion and anxiety that we experience in our families when someone in the family is considering a life devoted God in a religious community. Each family member is called to sacrifice something—some dream, some hoped-for experience with the person who is now contemplating choosing the road less travelled. But each family member is also given a great gift when someone in the family enters religious life. They come to appreciate God’s call more fully in their own lives, and there is a moment of reconciliation with all that is, was, and will be.
So how does someone discerning a religious vocation respond to God’s call, and how do families offer their support? It all begins with prayer: prayers for guidance offered by the discerner and prayers of support offered by the family. “Behind and before every vocation to the priesthood or to the consecrated life,” says Pope Francis, “there is always the strong and intense prayer of someone: a grandmother, a grandfather, a mother, a father, a community.”
This time of prayer is essential and brings blessings and graces, not only to the individual discerning God’s call, but to their family and the wider church. Jesus always took time to pray, and he was attentive to those who called out to him in prayer. Remember the story of the paralytic man, who longed to see Jesus, yet could not get to him without help. When his friends lifted him up and lowered him through the roof of the home where Jesus was, Jesus said to paralytic, your sins are forgiven. People questioned this statement, so Jesus said, “So you can see that the Son of God can forgive sins, pick up your mat and walk.” The man did just that, and those who witnessed the scene were awestruck. Everyone’s lives were changed forever.
For those who are discerning a vocation, their prayers and the prayers offered on their behalf by family, friends, and the community will most certainly elicit a response from God, and everyone’s lives will be changed forever. That is why it is important for families and faith communities to show their support of someone who is in discernment. Everyone’s vocation will grow in the process.
As with Mary and the disciples in the Upper Room after Jesus’ death, the Spirit descends upon those in deep and regular prayer and offers them strength and courage. Families, friends, and parishioners—as well as those discerning a religious vocation—are all renewed by this encounter with the Spirit in prayer, and, like the first disciples, our commitment to follow where Christ leads is strengthened, and we are inspired to use our gifts to spread the Word of God to others.
Practical suggestions for the parish
How do parishes create a prayerful and supportive culture for vocation discernment? Above all else, parishioners need to be aware of how important it is to have young adults contemplating the call to religious life within the church. They should make a point to talk about vocations to priesthood and religious life in encouraging terms and invite young people in the parish to seriously consider this unique form of Christian witness. Having men and women in the parish seriously discerning a vocation is a special moment in the life of the parish. You can show can show support in the following ways:
Religious vocations are essential to the life of the church. From the very beginning, certain people within the Christian community were called to follow Jesus in this unique way: willing and capable to bear witness to a consecrated, vowed life and ready to bring Christ to others. This legacy has been handed down to each generation and remains alive within our church today. The domestic church is where we are educated about the faith and encouraged to discern where God is calling us. And the domestic church is where anyone choosing a life of radical discipleship looks for the courage, strength, and support. Please offer those discerning a vocation that support. The church very much needs men and women who are eager to remain faithful, give witness to the living God, and call others to follow the way of love.
Let us all take the time to pray—pray for vocations and pray that our young adults will feel the embrace of Jesus, hear the whispers of God, and be assured of the abundant love within their lives, so that they may freely say yes to God’s plan for them. Remember that Mary, when she was visited by the Angel Gabriel, did not respond immediately. Only after the angel spoke the words “be not afraid!”, was Mary able to say yes. Let us pray that young adults have the courage respond to God’s call with the same depth of faith as Mary. “Be brave,” the Pope continually tells young people, “Be courageous!” Entrust yourselves to God, “to live his love and be grateful for his infinite mercy.”
As families, friends, parishioners, and all who encounter those discerning the call to religious life, may we carry these courageous disciples in the depths of our hearts, as we pray…
Lord, you called Peter and the apostles to leave all and follow you, and that call is renewed in each generation. Help those in this age who are discerning the call to consecrated life be open to your grace and fearlessly proclaim their assent to all that is being asked of them. May they know of your love for them, for their families, and for all who support them on their vocation journey. May these young adults face every challenge—every joy and sorrow—with bold and courageous love that becomes a resounding yes to you: Yes, Lord! Yes, Lord! Yes, Lord! Amen.
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