By Father Thom Hennen
In the world of vocation directors the phrase “creating a culture of vocations” is thrown around a lot. I have used the phrase myself in various talks and homilies that I have given since becoming the vocations director for our diocese.
As with any good saying, though, there is always the danger that it becomes just a “catch phrase.” Like so much business jargon (think “synergy”) that sounds good but says nothing, or expresses something so simple as to insult the hearer, it stands the risk of being hollowed out of any meaning.
So, what does “creating a culture of vocations” really mean? Occasionally someone will ask me, “What did your parents do to encourage you to be a priest?” Honestly, I cannot remember my parents ever saying the words, “Thom, you should think about being a priest.” They may have and I might not have been listening (in fact, that’s a very good chance). I simply don’t remember. But what I know they did was to put me in an environment in which I felt I could say “yes” to God’s call. In other words, they created a “culture of vocations” within the domestic church of our home.
How did they do this? First and foremost, they immersed me (baptismal imagery intended) in the sacramental life of the Church. They brought me to the church as an infant to be recreated in the waters of baptism, to put on Jesus Christ, and to begin a new life of grace. They saw that I was prepared for my first holy Communion and brought me to Mass each Sunday to be nourished in word and sacrament in the Eucharist. As a family we would go every month or so to the sacrament of reconciliation on Saturday afternoon. By helping to establish the habit of frequent confession my parents gave me the means to burn away the fog of sin, and so to see my way clear along the path of discernment.
Secondly, my parents brought the faith we celebrated on Sunday morning home. Catholicism was not an “extracurricular activity” but an integral part of our family life. I don’t mean to give the impression that my parents are “holy rollers” — they aren’t (if you meet them, you’ll know), but in very simple ways they made the faith a part of our everyday life. Simple things like gathering for a family meal, praying before meals, helping neighbors out, and giving people rides to church never seemed odd to me. In this way, my parents gave a great witness of both Catholic identity and service.
Thirdly, my parents always seemed to speak positively about the priests in our parish. No matter who our priest was, they always seemed to find the gift that each one brought and focus on that. I’m not saying that we should turn a blind eye to bad behavior or that we should put Father up on a pedestal. As a Church we know too well where that has led. I’m simply saying that my parents gave me a positive impression of the priesthood. They did not “poison the well,” so to speak. I didn’t grow up thinking that priests (or religious for that matter) were strange and unhappy people. In fact, I saw the priesthood and religious life as something truly admirable.
This, to me, is all part of what it means to create a “culture of vocations.” It is my hope and prayer that such a culture will be fostered in every home in every parish by every Catholic throughout the Diocese of Davenport.
(Fr. Hennen is vocations director for the Davenport Diocese. Contact him at (563) 888-4255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)