The Catholic Family and Vocations

Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J

Where are vocations to the priesthood and the religious life mainly fostered? In strong Catholic families. When do these vocations flourish? When Catholic families flourish. When do vocations wane? When Catholic family life is weak.

If this is true, then whatever we can do to stabilize Catholic family life and strengthen family ties among the faithful will promote good vocations to the service of the Church.

It is not hard to find reasons for this. After all, whatever else a true vocation to the priesthood or the consecrated life implies, it always means that a person is called to an above-average practice of virtue in the following of Christ. Concretely this means having the generosity to spend a lifetime in serving others without counting the cost. It means having the humility to work under authority for the common good. And above all it means having the charity, born of grace, to give up some of life's most precious possessions and prospects out of love for God.

The family is the divinely instituted place for generosity, humility and charity to first take root and, with divine assistance, to be cultivated from infancy, through childhood and adolescence, into adult life.

We speak so casually about grace building on virtue that we are liable to miss the profound implications of what we are saying. The grace of vocations needs good soil in which to be planted, and the proper conditions to develop under God's supernatural care. There is no soil more necessary and no conditions are more important than a good family life.

Certainly God is master of His gifts and He can, if He wishes, dispense with these provisions of nature. Good vocations have come from very unlikely backgrounds and in spite of the most adverse home situations. But these exceptions only prove the rule.

In His ordinary providence, however, the Lord prepares those He plans to choose by making sure they are reared in a family where generosity as self-sacrifice is shown to their children and required of them by the parents; where humility is a way of life because father and mother exercise their authority with kindness but with a firm and steady hand; and where charity, as the love of God, is instilled in the children by the practice of prayer and respect for religion that becomes almost the family atmosphere.

No one who knows what is going on in modern western society has any illusions about the status of the family. Irresponsible fathers, absentee mothers, neglected children, broken homes are becoming commonplace in one country after another.

We have no choice. We who believe that Christ is God, believe that He has not neglected His people. But we must do our part. We must strive by all manner of means to preserve sound Christian values in the family and restore them where they have been lost. And we must beg the Lord of the harvest to produce laborers for His vineyard by providing such families as are the normal seed-bed of vocations in the Catholic Church.

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