MCNEILLIE: Creating a culture of vocations through accompaniment

December 25, 2018

The results are in; the 2018 Synod on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” is changing the way we think about vocations.

Rather than considering vocations in a narrow way — thinking only about future priests and sisters — the Synod refocuses on vocations in a more holistic way. Everyone is called to exist by God. Everyone is called to co-create with God. And in a special way, every baptized person is called to be like God, to be holy.

Guidance is not something done for or to a young person, but as “accompaniment” suggests, it’s something that’s done with them.

More than 50 years after Vatican II, this message may not seem very new. Hopefully by now, everyone has heard that they have a vocation… hopefully. More than 50 years later, the Synod adds a call for vocational accompaniment.

It turns out, that young people need others to help them figure out God’s call. And while one might guess that helping young people is the job of the Vocations Director, or maybe even the job of a spiritual director, the Synod doesn’t say that.

Instead, they state that:
“The charism of spiritual accompaniment, even in tradition, is not necessarily linked to ordained ministers. Now, more than ever, there is a need for spiritual guides: fathers and mothers with a profound experience of faith and humanity, not just intellectually studied. The Synod also hopes that, in this area of need, there will also be a rediscovery of the great, generative resource of consecrated life, particularly consecrated women, and of lay people, well-trained adults and youth” (#97, unofficial translation from the Italian).

The Archdiocesan Office of Vocations hopes the same. Because everyone has a vocation, and because everyone needs guidance in discerning that vocation, there is no way that my two associates and myself in the Office of Vocations, nor even the 440 or so priests and 400 sisters in Houston could guide every young Catholic in their discernment. But you could. 

It’s true that not everyone is gifted in spiritual accompaniment, but some are. The Synod thinks that many people have some call and gift to be spiritual guides. These include family members, teachers, coaches, even managers in the workplace (#93).

Wondering if you could do this?

The Synod names some qualifications (#102): a life of faith, a life of prayer, a listening heart, an honest understanding of your own weaknesses and frailty. With qualities like these, a spiritual guide could help someone stay connected with God without moralizing, demoralizing, or controlling. Guidance is not something done for or to a young person, but as “accompaniment” suggests, it’s something that’s done with them.

Finally, the Synod recommends some training and some supervision for these vocational guides, especially the training of their own prayer and discernment (#103).

The Office of Vocations is looking to work together. While it might take a priest or sister to guide priestly and consecrated vocations in their later stages, there is so much good work that others can do. That’s why we hope that many lay men and women who are called and gifted will walk with young people in the discovery of their vocation. That’s also why we hope to train and provide support to those involved in this work with events and workshops such as our upcoming Vocations Expo on Jan. 26. For more on our resources, check out our website or contact us at

Father Richard McNeillie is the director of the Archdiocesan Office of Vocations.