At the regional meeting of provincials last year, I was surprised by Fr. Filiberto Gonzalez, provincial of Guadalajara, when he referred to the vocation resources on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Fr. Fili was using the “Top Ten Things to Promote Vocations,” available in English and Spanish, to encourage the confreres and members of the Salesian Family in his province to be practical and persistent in their vocation animation. Please take a look at the website and compare it to your community’s vocation plan.
This Sunday, April 30, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We hear in the Gospel, “...the shepherd calls his own sheep by name…” (Jn. 10:3). These powerful and very personal words invite us to reflect on how Jesus has called each of us by name, and he continues to call us to follow him more closely. Our joyful witness to being a disciple of Jesus is the most effective vocation promotion. This weekend is a great opportunity to share our vocation story. It is also an advantageous moment to boldly invite young people to consider God’s call in their lives.
Here are some of the upcoming activities being organized by the province offices of vocations and youth ministry with a vocational dimension. Please make great efforts to involve some young people from your Salesian presence in these activities.
May 1: Religious Brothers Day
May 26-29: Come and See Weekend for young men, 18 yrs. and older, Orange, NJ
May 27: Priestly Ordinations, Orange, NJ
June 1-4: Young Adult Retreat, ages 18-30, Stony Point, NY
Your local summer apostolates are also ideal experiences to awaken in young people an awareness of God’s call in their life.
At the team meeting in Peru, we spent significant time discussing vocation animation and vocation culture. Fr. Miguel Angel Garcia frequently spoke of God’s dream for each young person today. Here are a few points summarizing the presentations and our discussions:
- Vocation animation must be concerned about all vocations, not limited to Salesian consecrated life. With Baptism, we are all called to be authentic disciples and enthusiastic missionaries of Christ. Vocation accompaniment is not the privilege of the good, but a normal ministry offered to all. We accompany all young people in the discernment of their specific state of life in the Church.
- Vocation animation involves the entire educational pastoral community. Together, we respond to the needs of the young, sharing faith and life with them, and helping them interpret different experiences of everyday life in the light of the Gospel. We all feel concerned about helping young people discover their purpose in life.
- Vocation animation has a profound respect for the freedom of the young person. It must be clear that the one who accompanies has no other interest than to help the young person discover his/her calling before the Lord.
- Vocation guidance is the “crown of all our educational and pastoral activities” (Const. 37). It is integral to our mission to the young, not an island isolated from youth ministry. Youth ministry is, in itself, vocational, and vocation animation cannot exist apart from youth ministry. Did you know that all province youth ministry programs have some explicit vocation dimension? Can you say the same about your local youth ministry programs?
- Developing a vocation culture challenges the young to gradual but continued maturity as a human, in the practice of virtues and having an attitude of discernment, that is, responding to God’s personal call with specific life choices. Vocational guidance properly carried out is a sure way to grow in maturity and find true happiness.
- We see the close connection between living the Salesian sacrament of presence and effective vocation animation.
- We regularly include this intercession in our community prayers: “Help us in the varied activities of our Salesian mission to assist the young in discovering the divine call in their lives. May our witness, our invitation, and our accompaniment give rise to new apostolic vocations for the Church and the Congregation, for the missions and our province.” This sets before us a process for vocation animation—the joyful witness of my life as a response to God’s call, which provokes in others self-reflection and questions about what they were created to be and to do; the bold proposal to discover God’s plan; the journey together with the young to discern their vocation which includes prayer, Sacraments, experiences of community, service, spiritual guidance, reading daily life with faith, etc.
- At the center of vocation animation is friendship with Jesus—the authentic witness to friendship with Jesus by those committed to a vocation in the Church, and an invitation to the young to a personal encounter with the Lord. Young people need to see that the real driving force of our lives is following Jesus Christ.
- If there is no proposal, there will be no response. We propose “bold challenges for the discernment of their life choices with equally bold proposals for every kind of vocation in the Church, including the Salesian vocation in its various forms, involving the whole community.” (Address of the Rector Major at the Closing of GC27, 3.7) The invitation to discernment will likely need to be repeated frequently. We don’t get discouraged because we know God never tires of calling us to a more intimate relationship.
- We not only pray for vocations, but we also teach the young people to pray, and we pray with them.
- The vocation culture is lived by a community—the religious community and the educational pastoral community. We invite the young to share an experience of community. For the invitation to be provocative, we don’t have to be perfect, but we have to love one another. Community life is very helpful in discerning the young person’s ability to interact with and relate to others in a healthy manner.
- In vocation animation, we trust in God who calls, and we trust in the goodness of the young. We also must do our part. Every SDB community has identified a confrere to be the local vocation contact. How are we working together with this confrere to create a vocation culture? How are we taking advantage of province resources and programs to help young people discern their vocation?
- Vitamin M strengthens vocation discernment. “M” for mission. We can find creative ways of involving young people in the mission of the Church, including the Salesian Lay Mission Program and Vides.
- We can take advantage of resources from the National Association of Vocation & Formation Directors in Canada and the National Religious Vocation Conference of USA.
Next Wednesday, May 3, is the Feast of Saints Philip and James, Apostles. It’s interesting to note that, in the Gospel of John, it was to Philip that Jesus first says, “Follow me.” (Jn. 1:43) Then Philip tells Nathaniel about his encounter with Jesus. The patron of our province models for us a sincere boldness to share our experience of following “the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”
Happy Feast of St. Philip.
Fr. Tim Zak