Vocation is a faith-filled response of the baptized to the call of Christ to follow Him in His way of life and to co-operate with Him in the work of redemption either in Christian marriage and family life, the ministerial priesthood, or the consecrated life.
Vocation is intimately bound with faith. It grows from, is discerned with, and is nourished by faith. A vigorous faith life connotes healthy and abundant vocations. “A profound crisis of faith” (Porta fidei, no. 2) denotes a crisis of vocation and “scarcity of priests” (Blessed John Paul II, 1992). Vocations normally come from healthy families with vibrant faith life. Apart from faith vocation can neither be understood nor appreciated. Without faith, the Christian vocation is folly.
Vocation encompasses all the callings where the baptized are invited to follow Christ in His way of life and to co-operate with Him in His work of salvation. Depending on the baptized’s gifts and qualifications, the vocation may be to the priesthood, the consecrated life, or Christian marriage and family life. Each is equally important to the church and to the society. The last is the ordinary vocation for many unless God has specifically called one to the ministerial priesthood or the consecrated life. The authenticity of the vocation to the ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life, sometimes referred to as “divine vocation” or “holy vocation,” is first “carefully and suitably screened” (Perfectae caritatis, n. 34) and tested and evaluated (Optatam totius, n. 2) in the local Churches, unlike that of marriage and family life.
Every vocation is “born of the initiative of God; it is a gift of the love of God.” (Benedict XVI, 2012). God continues to say, “ [. . .] Come, follow me” (Mk 10:21). To be able to listen to the call of God, one needs openness and attentiveness to Jesus Christ and His gospel values. Jean Vanier says: “We should not think that we are too insignificant, too unimportant or unworthy to be called by God. God does not choose the strong, the most influential and the most learned, but rather the weak, the humble, the most needy [ . . .] those who recognize their poverty – not just a material poverty, but an inability to cope with life, a feeling of powerlessness and not knowing what to do.” (Vanier, 2010). Acceptance of the Lord’s invitation “means handing over our very lives to Him, entering through Him into communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit, and consequently with our brothers and sisters.” (Benedict XVI, 2013)
Just as it takes a village to raise a child, so also does it take the whole Christian community to care for vocations. The care of vocations is the responsibility of all the interdependent members of the Church, the Body of Christ (Optatam totius, n. 2; can. 233 §§ 1-2; Blessed John Paul II, 1992). All can pray for vocations in obedience to the Lord’s instruction (Mt 9: 38; Lk 10:2). All can pray to God to remedy any shortcomings in the faith of the called and for their perseverance. Some parishes in the Philippines have the Association of St. John Mary Vianney “praying for vocations.” Those gifted with financial means can selflessly support the needs of the seminaries and houses of formation. Those with the necessary expertise can likewise offer their services.
Many dioceses have organized various ministries for their particular Churches. I still have yet to see a “Ministry for Vocations.” It will be good for particular Churches to go over their parishes and ask why such and such parishes have produced priests and religious men and women while such and such parishes have produced none. A seminarian in Leyte conducted such a study for a parish in the Diocese of Calbayog. (Plaza, 2009)
Other concerns affecting vocations are absent parents and the pastoral care of migrants’ families, the quality of formation, the care of those whose vocations have been confirmed by the Church, and others. Millions of Filipino fathers and mothers toil in other countries away from their families. Their children are left in the care of a single parent, or a grandparent or caregiver, or worse, on their own. How do the particular Churches minister meaningfully to the children of these families?
The Philippines is one of the few countries that have retained minor seminaries. Has a study been done on the effectiveness of their curriculum and formation in the development of vocations to the hierarchical priesthood or the consecrated life?
Are the individuals assigned in the seminaries and houses of formation suited and qualified for their roles? How do they enhance or hinder the growth of vocations? Do those in formation grow in their “friendship with the mystery of Christ, with the mystery of the Redemption”? (Blessed John Paul II, 1983) Are they properly guided to grieve and say a good good-bye to their losses? “If we accept the call but not the loss we will live in a contradiction.” (Vanier, 2010). The impossibility of it all is expressed in a Tagalog expression: “namamangka sa dalawang ilog” (lit. trans.: riding on a boat between two rivers – Ed). Is the formation faithful to the teachings of Pastores dabo vobis, nn. 42-59? Are they learning from the examples they see the “compassion that is both competence and ‘presence’”? (Vanier, 2010)
How do the particular Churches and various institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life care for those in the priestly ministry and the consecrated?
There is a need for a clearing house for vocations in the country. This will store important information about seminarians and students in houses of formation. This will be helpful in the detection of fraudulent letters of recommendation and for those recruiting candidates for vocations outside the country.
Vocation is the response in faith of men and women to the initiative of God. It entails growth in the experience of faith for the total gift of self for the Kingdom of God. This requires ongoing examination of our assumptions and attitudes regarding vocations from the initial stage of discernment to the stage of formation to the care of those who have been deemed to be truly called by God to follow Christ in His way of life and to co-operate with Him in His work of redemption.