Q: Archbishop J, how can we discern our vocation in the domestic Church?
Parents, what is your dream for your children? What do you agonise over? These are important questions.
The first dream parents should have for their children is that they become saints. Parents should foster the love of God and the things of God in the hearts and imagination of their children. The home should be the place where a child gets the first taste of the things of God. Through this taste, the longing and the hunger for God should grow.
Many of the dreams and desires of parents for their children are for worldly success and honours. There is much agony about the right school, about which secondary school after SEA. What subjects are taken and what the child does after secondary school can also cause much anguish.
As I listen to the dreams and desires of parents, what I hear most often is about progress in this world. It is clearly not about becoming a saint or doing something extraordinary for God. This presents a major challenge for the spiritual, emotional and character formation of the child.
The two standards
In his writing St Ignatius of Loyola meditates on two standards. Imagine a battlefield with Christ’s army on one side and Satan’s army on the other. Each army has its standards or flags.
On Satan’s standards are wealth, pleasure, and honour. This army conquers by enticement, leading the family and its members to believe that they will arrive at true happiness by finding wealth, pleasure and honour in the eyes of others; proposing these three standards as the highest good and capturing the imagination of the family so it focuses only on these three.
The second army belongs to Christ. On this army’s standards are signs of humility, service, obedience to God’s will, poverty of heart, love of God and true devotion. This army works by calling forth people to true freedom and assisting them to value their freedom, as they choose the good. This true freedom is always in the service of love: love of God and of each other.
Which standards are you and your family under right now? Those of the devil? Or the standards of Christ? Which standard do you value most and give most time and energy to in your family? This is the value system that will be communicated most clearly to the children.
A Catholic Imagination
In previous times, vocations to the priesthood, religious and lay ecclesial life sprang out of the religious imagination of the family. Families, who placed God first and sought to live the will of God and under the standard of God, produced vocations, including vocations to married life and great citizens.
When a family lives with a Catholic imagination, it follows a rhythm of prayer in the family and in the parish community. Such a family has great traditions of service to the poor and involves the children in these works of mercy as part of their growing up, thus giving the family its identity. The family is the first teacher of the faith. And it is communicated by word and example.
In a family with Catholic imagination the parents pray agonisingly for the children, asking God to preserve them for their vocations. This prayer is not an imposition of the will of the parents, it is rather a discernment of the will of God for each child. In this prayer of discernment there is agony and fasting and specific sacrifices are offered on behalf of each child from the moment of conception through the spiritual experience of childbearing. In this way, a child grows to be keenly aware of God’s vocation and to put that vocation before everything else.
Answering God’s call becomes a focus when parents put God’s will first in their individual lives and in the family. Here the children are schooled in finding God at the centre of everything. They come to believe God has called them for a special purpose and that they will be happiest in living that purpose with generosity and grace.
Very often your family knows you better than you know yourself. Very early in a child’s life a parent has a sense of the suitability of a child for different things. Families that are under the standard of Satan, push the children to bring honour to the family, to be wealthy and live the good life.
Families who are under God’s standard listen deeply to the children and help them gently to begin the process of listening, to discern God’s purpose (vocation) for their lives. The vocation is not pushed nor sold as the option; it is left open to the child to explore.
I suggest beginning the discernment process with a simple prayer: ‘Bend my heart to your will, O God.’ With this simple prayer, the whole family moves towards obedience to God as its core and centre. From this centre each person is disposed to listen and be surprised by God, who leads each child along a unique path of intimacy with Him.
When St Ignatius was in his discernment phase, he realised he had two different daydreams. One led to his becoming a knight with much honour, many valiant actions and prosperity. The second led him to submit his life humbly to Christ, to becoming a priest and doing many noble works of great sacrifice and surrender for the glory of God.
The first dream led to agitation, and disquiet and the depleting of his energy. The second led to joy and peace and the growing realisation of God’s love as the real ground of his life.
The family is the first school of vocations and it is in the family that the children make choices about the standards they will follow, and what captures their imagination.
If you, your family member, or a good friend is contemplating vocation to the priesthood or religious life, pray that God’s will be made manifest. Actively discern yourself by contacting Fr Matthew d’Hereaux or a member of his team. Encourage that family member or friend to do the same. Pray the simple prayer: ‘Bend my heart to your will, O God.’