What do you want to be when you grow up? What does your ideal husband/wife look like? What’s your major? These are the questions that dominate teen and young adult minds — when they get serious. Getting them to think in terms of the language of vocations is vital. And, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, granted in Confirmation, are essential to proper discernment.
This article was inspired by two events that converged this weekend: Parent’s Weekend for my daughter just off to college, plus today’s Gospel: Luke 16: 19-31. That’s the passage that tells us the rich man goes to Hell and the poor-diseased-homeless Lazarus goes to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man is told he got his benefit during his brief earthly life, whereas Lazarus, who spent his earthly life suffering, gets the full reward of heaven. That makes a rather tough choice for a young person weighing their career choices. As we sat together in Mass yesterday evening, I pondered the stark contrast the Gospel presents as my daughter figures out her life’s path.
What is a vocation?
Vocation, in secular terms, focuses on what you like to do. This is often contrasted with your profession – that which you do to earn money for financial stability. Rare is the individual who gets to make a career of what they love to do.
Yet, as Catholics, we know that our vocation is our calling. There are two broad pathways: call to marriage and family life or call to religious life.
The call to marriage is about self-giving to a spouse and to openness to life – the full gamut of sacrificial life in the family. It’s not about finding a cute partner, someone with the same interests, someone fun to be with; it’s about finding a soul-mate to partner with in self-giving – to each other and to children.
The call to religious life for women involves discerning what religious order to join: contemplative or active. Active religious are out working in the world – in schools, hospitals, orphanages, among the poor, and as missionaries. Contemplatives form the front line of prayer intercession for the needs of the world.
As a man called to religious life, you have a choice of secular clergy (priest) or religious clergy or lay brother. As a religious, you live in community within an order, which may involve active or contemplative service to the world.
There is another choice too: Consecrated singlehood. These are men or women who choose not to marry, but devote their lives in service to others – either in the secular world or through lay associations with religious orders.
So, when our children start to think about what they’ll be when they grow up, we need to focus their lens on the primary choice, between the call to religious life or the call to marriage and family life.
The world tells us that everyone is to get married. Therefore, life becomes a quest for romance in search of “the one” to whom they will commit to – eventually (and maybe not “until death do you part”). And, the world tells us that everyone is to pursue a career. Some say choose something you’re interested in, for which you have talent. Others focus on making a career choice that will ensure you have a comfortable earthly life. Ouch – none of that fits our Christian call, or our Catholic understanding of primary vocations: married vs. religious life.
Encourage your teens to remember this two-path primary call. Other choices must be ordered in light of that call.
Why Confirmation is vital to figuring out “what you do when you grow up”
There are only two Sacraments that leave an indelible mark on our soul: Baptism and Confirmation. Confirmation completes the Sacraments of Preparation, which include: Baptism, first Penance and First Communion. While Confirmation is a “choice,” it is not a neutral choice between apples and oranges. It’s a choice that determines if you will have the fullness of the Holy Spirit – with the Fruits of the Holy Spirit – or if you’ll be stumbling around trying to figure your life out without the complete light of the Holy Spirit enlightening your awareness.
Now, of course, it’s also possible to be among the “frozen chosen,” who have gone through the motions of their faith life, but never allowed the Spirit to fully penetrate their frozen or distracted being. Yet, as people who believe in the Visible Presence, we know that the Sacraments are efficacious despite the disposition of the receiver. That means, that even if you trudge up to receive the Eucharist (and as long as you are not in a state of Mortal Sin) distracted by worldly things, Jesus still comes into you and fills you with His Grace. Likewise, the Sacrament of Confirmation is efficacious even if the teen is “being dragged there” by parents, or if he “has to be there” and doesn’t really “want” to be there. The gifts of the Holy Spirit still become available fully to even the most reluctant participant.
Of course, opening oneself up to the life of Grace provided to us through the Sacraments is also helpful. But the effect of the Sacraments does not depend on us; they come to us with absolute Grace. But we need to tend our gardens to yield good fruit. God gifts us the gifts, and we are to bear good fruit.
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
- Wisdom: To see God’s work in our life and in the world.
- Understanding: To know the self-evident principles that show us how to live as followers of Christ.
- Right judgment/counsel/Prudence: Ability to apply principles to right action.
- Fortitude – The courage to follow Jesus no matter the cost, and to bear wrongs.
- Knowledge – Understanding the meaning of God’s Revelation, and to study on it constantly.
- Piety – Reverence for thing things of God — deep understanding and reliance on God, and trust in him.
- Fear of the Lord – St. Thomas Aquinas says this means: fear of separating oneself from God. We know and desire the fullness of God’s truth, and do not risk losing our communion with Him and His church.
The Fruits of the Holy Spirit
Charity (love): Seeking the good of another.
Kindness (or benignity)
Long Suffering (Longanimity)
That’s a long list – and a high promise for your ourselves and for our children. The message to take from this is:
1st: Develop an understanding of vocation as the principle calling (and choice of will to say “yes” to). Beware of the lure of worldly financial stability or success. Beware of a focus on individual fulfillment. The question is primarily: Where am I called to serve? It’s either in marriage and through family life or through religious life. This is the ultimate divorce-proof and angst-proof message. It’s never about personal fulfillment; it’s always about service. And with service comes expected suffering. You can count on suffering in this world. A call to serve necessarily involves personal sacrifices. The aim is not self-fulfillment, but emptying ourselves to serve those to whom we are called.
2nd: Confirmation is essential. We need to fullness of the Holy Spirit – the Gifts of the Spirit – to live our lives striving to bear witness through the Fruits of the Spirit. How can our children choose a career when they have not discerned a vocation? How can they find a spouse if they don’t understand the principle of service in fulfilling our life’s call? How can they live chastely if they do not know that chastity is a fruit of a vocation – either chastity in marriage or in religious life?
The path to finding oneself and choosing a path in life requires losing oneself in service to the high call God leads us to. Without this we wander in darkness. We are called as Children of the Light. The light-switch needs to be turned on, through the Sacrament of Confirmation first. Parents and Catechists need to stay in that light too, and not be distracted in our messaging to teens and young adults about less primary needs and concerns.
That’s as great a challenge as the Gospel presents today: the earthly-filled rich man vs the earth-suffering/heaven-filled Lazarus. Beware of distractions that focus on self-fillment on earth. Choose heaven by embracing a life of sacrificial service that is rooted in a primary call – to marriage or to religious life. What your major is, what degree you get, how you make your money – these are always not the important questions; and they can provide snares that keep us from our pursuit of heaven.