Many Christians dedicate the month of January for the respect of human life and to pray for religious vocations. With that in mind, I’d like to tell you one of my favorite stories from the “Lives of the Saints.”
Gerard Majella, a young Italian man, was refused admittance three times into one religious order because of his frail health. He was determined to enter religious life and become a lay brother. During a mission conducted by a group of priests he asked to be admitted to the order. Again he was refused because they felt he would not be equal to the rigors of monastery life.
So persistent was Gerard that Father Paul Cafaro, the superior of the missionaries, advised Gerard’s mother to lock him in his room on the night they were leaving in case he tried to follow them. Gerard’s mother did so, but the next morning when she unlocked the door she found an open window from which hung a sheet and a note on the table that read: “I have gone to become a saint.”
Gerard caught up with the missionaries. After many refusals, Father Cafaro finally gave in and sent him to the rector of the Redemptorist house. With Gerard he sent this note of recommendation: “I am sending you a useless lay brother.”
The “useless” Gerard did the work of four men and in six years advanced rapidly in sanctity as he traveled with and assisted the missionaries. People followed him and already called him what he was later to become – the saint.
This coming Sunday we end the Christmas season by celebrating the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer. Christ’s true vocation is revealed at his baptism, and so is ours. Through the Holy Spirit, we become a child of the Father, and Christ becomes our brother. Within the mystery of baptism is the call that every Christian receives – to become a saint.
Many young people today have never had the concept of a vocation explained to them. For instance, priesthood and religious life are not the only religious vocations in the church. Marriage is a religious vocation that requires us to take vows for a lifetime. Some people stay single and serve God in other ways even though they don’t take vows, which can be a kind of vocation.
We do not choose a vocation in the same way we choose a career. We choose a career to support the vocation that God calls us to. The distinction between a vocation and a career is that most people do not get paid for their vocation because it is the way in which we serve God and his people. For instance, the parents of a family do not get paid to be parents. However, they choose a career to support their family.
Many young people may be called to a certain vocation, but no one has ever encouraged them. If we are truly concerned about the future of our young people then we need to begin with serious prayer for them.
These are some qualities to look for in young people who may have a call to religious life:
1. A deep love for Christ in his church, and a healthy prayer life.
2. A desire to be of service to others.
3. Sound integrity – honesty in relationships and good moral values.
4. Intelligence – an appreciation and desire to teach the values taught by Christ in the Gospel.
5. Good health – someone who has the energy and abilities to do Christ’s mission.
When Christ was baptized, both his divinity and his true identity were revealed. Like Christ, our vocation is instilled at the sacrament of baptism. Like St. Gerard Majella, there are many people who are more discouraged than encouraged to pursue their calling from God.
Please take some time to pray for the future of young Christians. We help our children find a career, and yet their vocation is more important. Don’t be afraid to tell them they’d make a great priest, religious sister or brother, mother or father.
The Rev. James Williams is pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Salida.