The Vocation Vacation

Are we all good and rested? We might not realize it, but we have been on a long, long vacation. We've been taking it easy for decades, even centuries, and it's time to get to work. The mission? PRAYING FOR VOCATIONS.

You might now be wondering if I ever go to church, the place where we always pray for vocations. Breathe easy: I do go to church, and I do hear that beautiful prayer intention for vocations during the Prayers of the Faithful. It usually goes something like this prayer I found on the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) website:

On their "Vocations" page, where I found this prayer card, the USCCB posts a provocative headline on the sidebar:

Survey of Youth and Young Adults on Vocations
New study shows over 500,000 of our youth and young adults have seriously considered a vocation.
There's good news and bad news in that headline.
  • Good news: Half a million young people are aware that God has a plan for their lives, that God is calling them to holiness.
  • Bad news: The number should be much, much greater than 500,000. The percentage of young Catholics who have "seriously considered a vocation" should be exactly 100%.
In the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, the title of Chapter V is "THE UNIVERSAL CALL TO HOLINESS IN THE CHURCH." (And it is written in shouty capital letters like that.) I checked to be sure, and universal does mean everyone. 100%. ALL PEOPLE. (Oh, dear, now I'm shouting too.) Here's an excerpt from Lumen Gentium, from the chapter on the laity:
. . . [W]here Christianity pervades the entire mode of family life, and gradually transforms it, one will find there both the practice and an excellent school of the lay apostolate. In such a home husbands and wives find their proper vocation in being witnesses of the faith and love of Christ to one another and to their children.
Here we see the word vocation used in the context of marriage. A few sentences earlier, the document affirms that married men and women are "marvelously called" (#34) to bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit in their daily lives. Somewhat self-indulgently, I love it when the Church talks about the vocation to marriage and affirms the universal call to holiness that includes the choice to follow God's plan for marriage.

And yet, almost every time we pray for vocations, we mean vocations to religious life.

Important note: I love praying for vocations to religious life. I am an enthusiastic member of a women's group that meets at our archdiocesan seminary to pray for vocations to the priesthood. I pray every single day that my own children are attentive to what God is calling them to do, and I predict I would be perfectly happy to discover that God created all five of my children for religious life. I love the male and female members of religious orders and the priests who have touched my life in countless ways. Their consecrated witness to the love of God inspires me. Their service to the Church keeps me connected to Scripture and the Sacraments, keeping me alive physically and spiritually. We must pray for vocations to religious life. In fact, that's precisely what the Pope is asking us to pray for this month in his evangelization intention. Let's pray with the Pope for vocations to religious life and priesthood.

And here are three reasons to pray for vocations to generous married life, which is distinct from consecrated religious life, but connected in deep and beautiful ways.

(Not how it works.)
1) Marriage is the source of every person--with any vocation
Where do these priests and religious come from? I'm pretty sure they don't hatch from eggs. Chances are, they have parents, a woman and a man who cooperated in giving them life. Often, their families brought them regularly to church and taught them how to pray. No marriage, no nuns. If we want to pray for vocations to religious life, we can pray also for their biological source: generous married couples.

2) Families can make or break the vocational discernment process
Folks in vocations offices know that families are critical in the discernment process for men considering the priesthood: an unsupportive family tempts a man to reject a priestly vocation, while a pro-vocation family helps a young man begin and persevere in the discernment process. Couples who have consciously answered God's call to be generous with their marriage have a shorter learning curve when it comes to understanding why a son would choose to give his life fully to the Church.

3) Most young people do not choose marriage
A modern young couple choosing to live chastely until marriage is every bit as alarming and counter cultural to their peers as a young person choosing priesthood or religious life. My husband and I do a lot of work with engaged couples preparing for marriage in the Catholic Church. The overwhelming majority of these good people have the same home address. This means that most couples want to try out marriage first before committing to it. With good will and a strong desire not to make a mistake about something as important as marriage, they move in together to make sure they're compatible. The University of Wisconsin-Madison sees the rise in cohabiting couples as part of "the declining significance of marriage" in our culture. Their National Survey of Families and Households reveals "dramatic age differences in attitudes that presage an increasing acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation, and unmarried childbearing as younger cohorts replace older ones." For many young people, this increased cultural freedom to live together before marriage actually makes them less free to commit to marriage freely, faithfully, fully, and fruitfully.
     Sadly, US government statistics bear this out. The CDC's 2012 National Health Statistics indicate (on page 18) that couples who choose not to cohabit before marriage are more likely to remain married after 10, 15, and 20 years. Nonetheless, young people who don't move in together before marriage face ridicule by their peers. One engaged woman I met while she was just finishing law school told me her friends actually staged an intervention with her; they felt that, as her closest friends, they must speak out and prevent her from following through with the wedding if she was unwilling to move in with her fiancé first. They desperately wanted her to choose something that is not marriage; she wanted to wait for the real deal, and encountered only obstacles. Young people need our prayers to choose marriage.

The Bible begins and ends with marriage. In Genesis, Adam wakes from deep sleep to meet, "at last," the partner who shares all of creation with him. Revelation describes the end times in terms of a wedding feast: "For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready" (19:7). Marriage helps us understand God's commitment to his people throughout the entire Bible. Marriage helps us understand God himself, an eternal communion of persons. When priests and religious make the generous commitment to serve the Church, they stand as witnesses to the eternal wedding feast in heaven where we "neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven" (Matthew 22:30). Their witness to the heavenly banquet has power because God made marriage the model of his providential care for us. Our prayers for vocations--to marriage--will combat the "declining significance of marriage" in our time and affirm God's magnificent plan of faithful love.

God calls some people to single life too, of course, but we'll have to discuss that another day. Right now, my family is calling me for dinner. (Ha! A vocation joke!) I'll post just one more image, a page from a recent brochure from my archdiocesan vocations office. When my friend Fr. Luke first handed me this brochure, I shouted with glee--just look at it! It offers young people, and all of us, a comprehensive explanation of the many ways God calls us into service. And it's really snazzy. It asks a great question:
How is God calling you?

Archdiocese of Milwaukee Vocations Brochure

(Nun image from