Kids from the time they are in kindergarten will get asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
They will often have ideas from a young age about their life’s ambitions and hopes for their future career, but how often do we ask youth, “What vocation do you feel God is calling you to?” This is an important question and, although it doesn’t need to be posed to kindergarteners, it should be asked of our youth and talked about openly with them by the time they are in high school.
Having worked with high schoolers for over a decade now in youth ministry, I see how their four years of high school allow for them to grow and mature, but most importantly serve as years for them to begin to make important decisions about their future. While in high school they will be offered many opportunities to hear about college options or talk to an army recruiter or to look into different trade schools. Youth begin to see their future is in their own hands for whatever path they want to take.
During this formative time it is important for us to not leave out that their vocation is an even bigger calling than their future career. Their vocation is beyond what they will one day be doing from nine to five. It is what God is asking them to do and what he will one day talk to them about face-to-face.
But how can youth even think about their vocation if no one ever asks them about it? It is important to expose our young people to the different, beautiful vocations that there are within our church. The Camden Diocese does an excellent job with this through various opportunities, such as the young men’s discernment group and the annual iRace4Vocations day; however, on a more personal level, those who know the youth in their parish — the youth ministers, religious education directors, the priests and the lay people involved in the parish — have a particular obligation to expose our youth to the callings that God lays before them.
One of the most important things we can do for youth is expose them to those who are living out their own vocation. We have done this at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Williamstown in our youth ministry programs by hosting panel discussions about the different vocations with representatives from each, including married life, single life, priesthood and religious life.
Another way to expose the youth to vocations is to have priests, deacons and lay married people attend your regular youth or young adult ministry meetings and expose them to the joys and the difficulties of living out various vocations. In doing this young people can learn that a vocation may seem easy from the outside, but each always has its ups and downs. Moreover, this reinforces why relying on God and prayer is so important.
I can understand this, having been living out the vocation of marriage now for 11 years, but recently becoming a mother, thus completely changing my and my husband’s lives and relationship. I find myself relying on God’s grace more and more as my husband and I navigate this new frontier in our vocation of marriage. While it is beautiful, it can also be challenging at times; however, God has been guiding us through it and at the same time bringing my husband and me closer than we have ever been.
I also feel that it is particularly important to be open with those young men and women in your parish that you feel have a special calling to the priesthood or religious life. While they may be praying about it, they often hear God answering their prayers through the people around them who know them best. Offer these youth opportunities to have spiritual direction with your parish priest or deacons as well as offer them opportunities to talk to other young seminarians, either from your parish or from the diocese. Direct them to the diocese’s Vocation Office’s discernment groups as well. You can also offer support ministries within your parish for them. Recently we began a woman’s discernment group as an opportunity for the young women in our parish to pray and share their journeys together, to know they aren’t alone in them.
While statistics may show that there is a decline of those being ordained as priests, entering the religious life and having holy marriages, God has not stopped calling our young people to that. I feel that there are so many distractions that many have missed their true calling by not taking the proper time to pray about and really discern their vocation. This is probably because most of them were never told. Therefore, let us take the opportunity to not only pray for the young people of our church but to talk to them about what God may be calling them to in this life.
Kari Janisse has been the Coordinator of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Williamstown since 2009. She leads programs for youth starting in third grade through adults up to 28 years old. She also leads programs outside of the parish called, “+he ROCK,” which are Catholic Clubs at local high schools.