The Family: Seedbed of Vocations
by Father John McCloskey
We know that the core teaching of the Second Vatican Council is the radical call of all to holiness. However, we also know that God calls a chosen few, that should be many, to follow him even more closely in a life of apostolic celibacy for the kingdom of God, whether it be as a priest, religious, or layperson. The founder of Opus Dei once remarked that those called by God owe ninety percent of their vocation to their parents. The family is the seedbed of vocations.
Saint John Bosco was reported as saying that one out of every ten Catholic men has a vocation to the priesthood. We could say that he employed the word men in the inclusive sense and say that one out of every ten persons has a specific supernatural calling from God. Perhaps this is the Lord’s way of assuring a total tithing of his children. He has no interest in money but has a total commitment to his children as a loving Father.
One of the greatest hopes of any Catholic family should be to have one, or more, of their children to be chosen in a special way by God for his service. Traditionally, this has meant a vocation to the diocesan priesthood or one of the religious congregations. In a specific sense we are referring to the priesthood, the religious life, or to one of the various movements and institutions for laypeople that enable them to dedicate themselves totally to God in the middle of the world. These new institutions are highly favored by the Church as a means of complete dedication to the apostolate as we approach the millennium. Nowadays, it is more and more recognized that the vocation to apostolic celibacy for the kingdom of God is also a viable choice for the layperson. Indeed, the Church has made it quite clear through its enthusiastic endorsement of the need and efficacy of specific vocations to the various movements and institutions of the Church that are lay-oriented.
However, it is no secret that generally, with some few notable exceptions in some few dioceses and religious congregations, vocations have been in sharp decline in Europe and North America over the last forty years while on a steady but unspectacular rise throughout the rest of the world during the pontificate of John Paul II. There are a variety of reasons for this decline in the West. We could cite contraception producing smaller families, general affluence resulting in the bourgeois spirit producing a consequent lack of generosity, lack of catechesis, the general confusion in the Church, the sexual revolution and the consequent lost of innocence resulting in cynicism and hedonism among young people where ideals should be high, the sad example of tens of thousands of married couples and priests and religious who have not been faithful to their commitments to God and the Church, and each other. However, the example of holiness is a much more powerful influence on young people if they are brought up in such a way as to appreciate it. Witness the impact of John Paul II, Mother Teresa, the new Doctor of the Church Saint Therese of Lisieux, Blessed Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei and so many others. Look at the World Youth Days in Czestochowa, Denver, and Paris with their millions of young people united in prayer and sacrifice, and apostolic zeal with the Holy Father and the Church.
The family atmosphere in which vocations are bred, nourished, and readied for fruition really is no different than what any serious Catholic parents would want to create for their children in order to prepare them for holy marriages and to give a Christian witness in the world. As the noted family expert Jim Stenson has remarked, parents should form their children with their vision pointed into the not too-distant future when their children will marry and have children of their own. They are preparing their children to be responsible, faithful adult Catholics and family persons who will build up the Church, society, and culture.
Catholic parents who want to produce vocations for the Church have to be ready to be heroically counter cultural. As the old Beatles song put it, "It don’t come easy." Putting it mildly, the world appears designed at the moment to thwart people, particularly young people, from even entertaining the thought of complete dedication to God. I like to speak of three particularly strong influences on young people today. One, the general culture; two, the educationally system; three, the family environment. Hopefully, at least two out of three would be positive influences to create a favorable environment for young men and women to commit themselves totally to God. Unfortunately this is not the case. The secular educational system, from top to bottom, as presently constituted, represents the ideology of secular humanism as the norm; the general culture appears designed by a demonic Intelligence to destroy any notion of beauty or truth in any young mind ...
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