The Best Vocation (Be a Saint!)

Sunday, April 22, 2018

It's Good Shepherd Sunday, and by an accident of circumstances we ended up going to a different Mass than usual, and I'm glad we did! Today especially we pray for vocations, and Father discussed what that really means in his homily, which echoed a lot of the sentiments I feel when it comes to my children and their vocations.

I went about it all wrong at first, I think. Our oldest has always had a keen interest in the liturgy, and started "playing" Mass at a very young age. We encouraged this, talking about how he would be a priest when he grew up, and maybe even a bishop! Or a pope! I hated when he got older and expressed a desire to get married... My little priest! By golly, we're a Good Catholic Family and we're going to show it by having THE MOST VOCATIONS TO THE RELIGIOUS LIFE!!!

Oh wait.

That's not the point of vocations.

Growing up, it was always assumed we would all get married. There was absolutely no talk of the possibility of a vocation to the religious life. Even though my mother and father had planned to enter the religious life before they met each other (as an Episcopal priest and a monk, respectively), they never suggested to any of us children that we might have a vocation to the religious life. So I suppose I felt like I should take that in the opposite direction, and talk all the talk about vocations to the religious life! And how great that would be! And how that's the BEST vocation!

Ha. Well, it's a good thing I figured it out before my kids were too old to be permanently scarred by their mother's obsessive religious fervor.

Because the point isn't to pray that God calls all our children to the religious life, in order to prove just how holy we (the parents) are, and how we raised them right!!! Nope. The point is for us to be praying that our children follow their vocation, whatever it may be.

Maybe they'll be called to the religious life. Maybe they'll be called to marriage. Maybe they'll be called to remain single and celibate, but not as members of a religious community (Father rightly pointed out that this is probably the hardest way to live, since there's neither close family nor religious community for extra support in this case).

But none of these is the absolute best vocation. Because if there were one "right" vocation, wouldn't we all be called to it?

Oh wait! We are! We're all called to be saints. To live our lives following Christ so that we may ultimately join Him in Heaven. And how we follow Him looks different for all of us, doesn't it?

So now instead of cheerfully encouraging all of my children to pursue a vocation to the religious life, whether that's what God's calling them to or not, I've calmed down. We talk about discernment. About the different ways of living out God's will.

Right now I have two children who say they feel called to married life, one who would like to be a sister, one who would like to be a priest (so he can talk at Mass, he says), one who would like to work in a variety of careers and never marry or have children, and one who mostly just wants to eat pretzels and pick flowers (she's 16 months old, she's got time). We talk about how they might feel drawn to one occupation or vocation right now, and how that might change as they get older. And that's okay.

They don't need to label themselves from an early age. But they do need to pray and ask God to help make their vocation clear. And to pray for the courage to follow Him, even when following Him looks ridiculous to the rest of the world.

We do like to encourage our children to educate themselves about different vocations to the religious life. Frequent exposure to religious communities is best, but if you don't have any near you or it's too hard to get to them, here are some resources we like (affiliate links):

Mass Kit & Magnetic Church Set - for explaining the different vessels & the anatomy of the church building. And for playing Mass, for those kids who like to do that.

Saint Blocks from Almond Rod Toys always spark good conversations about different saints and their stories. Lindsey also sells an affordable wooden mass kit.

Peg doll saints & religious are always fun to watch them play with too. We have a set of nuns from The Fig and Thimble that the girls especially LOVE to play with! They talk about the different orders and habits and it's adorable. Our peg dolls from Punch and Judy Pegs are probably my favorite though, solely based on the style.

We read a lot of books about saints! Ethel Pochocki's Once Upon a Time Saints is a favorite series, and this Saints book is an absolute gem - sacred art, a saint for each day, brief biographies (St. Agatha is the most graphic depiction in the whole book, so if you're not okay with her martyrdom story you might want to skip this until the kids are older). Tomie dePaola has a lot of beautiful saint biographies (now is a really good time to buy them, there are lots of copies available of some of our favorite out-of-print ones like The Lady of Guadalupe, The Holy Twins, Saint Patrick, and Saint Francis) that we always love reading.

Last, this book has a TON of info on different saints, vocations, general questions about the faith. The kids love looking through it on their own, and it's really great to read together!

How do you approach teaching about vocations with your children? Any good resources you can recommend to the rest of us?

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