The Parish as a School of Vocation Discernment Print
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 04 February 2008 08:50
Hurrah for Russell Shaw and this great article in America (2004) on the "vocation crisis".

D espite all the talk about a vocation shortage, there is in fact no such thing in the Catholic Church. The real shortage is that of vocational discernment, and that is a very different problem. The shortfall in the number of candidates for the priesthood, the consecrated life and other forms of Christian witness and service would quickly disappear if many more Catholics, and ideally all, made it a practice to discern, accept and live out their unique, irreplaceable callings from God—their personal vocations.


Personal vocation puts this matter in a radically different light. Everyone has a personal vocation, an unrepeatable call from God to play a particular role in his redemptive plan and the mission of the church. The task of each is to discern God’s will, accept it and live it out. That is responding to the universal call to be holy.

Contrary to an elitist view of vocational discernment, which tends to treat it as an exercise for a select few, discernment is for everybody. “The fundamental objective of the formation of the lay faithful is an ever-clearer discovery of one’s vocation and the ever-greater willingness to live it out,” Pope John Paul II says in his post-synod document on the laity, Christifideles Laici (1989).

To carry out this mandate, parishes need to become schools of vocational discernment—places where liturgy, catechesis and spiritual direction encourage parishioners to engage in continuing, prayerful reflection on what God is asking of them. The effort should start with children (in an age-appropriate manner) and continue with adolescents, young adults and adults at every stage of their life journey. Special opportunities—retreats, days of recollection—should be provided for those who have major vocational choices to make. The aim is discernment, not recruitment.

But, someone might object, won’t emphasizing personal vocation distract people from heeding calls to the priesthood and consecrated life? Won’t it make the real-life vocation shortage worse?

The answer is no. If many more Catholics practiced ongoing discernment regarding their personal vocations, many more would discover that they are called to the priesthood or consecrated life. The best solution to the dearth of new candidates—and to many other problems in contemporary Catholic life as well—is personal vocation. Indeed, it may be the only one.

Yes, yes, yes! a thousand times yes!

As Shaw points out, one possible reason for Catholic distrust of the idea of personal vocation is that it became associated with Martin Luther. Although it is a thoroughly Catholic concept, it has been thought of as "Protestant" and therefore, "not Catholic".

Imagine what would happen if the 19,000 parishes in this country were 19,000 centers of vocational discernment for all the baptized throughout their lives? What if - as we tried to articulate to the seminarians in Houston - priests and pastors were formed to govern - a central part of which is to call forth the charisms and vocations of all the baptized?

The possibilities boggle the mind. And means that the Institute won't stop its traveling ways anytime soon.