MCNEILLIE: Vocations is a God-given desire, not a forced one

January 29, 2019

Vocation is born of a God-given desire. It’s a desire that starts out in the Father’s heart, and it becomes our desire when He shares it with us. He wants it for us so badly that He helps us want it for ourselves. So discovering our vocation can be as simple as discovering our desires. Sort of.

Sin complicates discovering this desire that was a gift from our Father. If we always wanted what God wanted, then all our desires would be God’s desires and everything would be fine. In reality, we have a lot of desires, and not all of them are from God. So finding those God-given desires — i.e., discernment — turns out to be hard.

Parents (relatives and adults in general) can also complicate this discovery. No matter how hard they might try, they cannot give someone their vocation. Meaning, no matter how many times someone tells their grandkids that they want a priest in the family, they won’t give someone a priestly vocation — only God can do that.

Again, you can make someone want the priesthood, but that doesn’t help them unless God also makes them want the priesthood. The same applies to vocation directors; even I can’t change someone’s God-given desire.

Part of the challenge is that good parents help train their children’s desires. You tell your kids what they should and shouldn’t want: “Eat your vegetables”... “Don’t stick your finger in that socket.” But when it comes to their vocations, a different approach is needed.

In order to discover their God-given desires, young people need prayer and exposure. Encountering different vocations (other marriages, sisters, priests) will help them become aware of their options, and prayerful discernment will help them sort out what’s in their heart. In their preparatory document for the synod on young people and vocational discernment, the bishops suggest something like this.

Help young people experience a part of the vocation and prayerfully reflect on how their heart was moved. This approach is a lot like taking your son or daughter to various universities and seeing which one they pick. Even if you suggest which one you think would be a good fit, you’re still letting them sort out their desires and make an informed decision.

With vocations, telling someone that they would make a great priest or sister is a good thing. Often young people need affirmation and encouragement to pursue their dreams. But repeating that comment every month, or worse, telling them that they should be a priest or sister is a bad idea.

It doesn’t help to put our desires in their hearts. In the end, having our Creator put His desires in our heart is a real treasure. Helping others discover that treasure might be real work, but it’s worth it. 

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