The collection of sixth-grade faces turned a certain shade as the question sunk in.
“How many of you are in a relationship?”
“Everyone thought she was talking about dating!” Colten Stundebeck, a sixth-grader at St. Joseph School in Salisbury, recalled while holding back laughter.
The actual point was, everyone needs to be in an ever-deepening relationship with God and with other people in order to carry out the mission God has had in mind for each individual since the beginning of time.
“There are no Lone Rangers when it comes to following Jesus,” said Kelsey Emmerich, principal of St. Joseph School in Salisbury.
Mrs. Emmerich and Joseph Morris, sixth-grade teacher at St. Mary School in Glasgow, facilitated the local observance of Sixth Grade Vocation Day for the Salisbury and Glasgow students in the St. Joseph Parish Hall in Fayette.
Using videos and other materials provided by the diocesan Vocation Office, Catholic schools throughout the diocese guided their sixth-graders in a virtual observance of an event that usually draws several hundred students to the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City each spring.
With the Cathedral undergoing major renovations this year, organizers worked with the schools to keep the event close to home.
The theme was “Chosen for Mission.”
The young participants wore blue T-shirts created for the occasion, emblazoned with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Activities included Bible verse relay races, video presentations, one-on-one and group discussions and plenty of time to let off steam.
“Let fear disappear”
In the video clips, married couples, priests, religious sisters and lay missionaries talked about the joy and satisfaction they derive from knowing and doing what God created them to do.
The videos and activities repeatedly reinforced the message that the safest, surest way to find fulfillment in this life and eternal joy in the next is to figure out and follow one’s own calling from God.
Every Christian receives a universal calling to cultivate holiness in service to Him and other people.
God intends for each person to carry out that calling in a specific way — through Priesthood, consecrated religious life, Christian marriage or some other vocation.
The key, the event’s presenters noted, is to turn off the distractions whenever possible and listen for subtle clues that God places in people’s hearts.
“God doesn’t impose,” Father Christopher Aubuchon stated in one of the videos. “He proposes.”
In another video, Sister M. Karolyn Nunes of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George said fear is the biggest obstacle to following God’s will.
In discerning a vocation, she advised the students to ask: “Is this the best way for me to become a saint? Is this the right way my heart was made to love?”
“Let fear disappear!” Sr. Karolyn advised. “God’s plans are for your joy and for you to be fully alive!”
In another video, several priests talked about how they know they’re doing what God wants them to do.
“Being a priest is hard work but it is very satisfying and can be a lot of fun,” said Father Jason Doke.
“Every day is different and every day is a new adventure,” stated Father Paul Clark.
“Your vocation is something that energizes you,” Father Anthony Rinaldo said. “That’s how I feel when I celebrate Mass or the sacraments.”
“Every day is different — that’s what I like,” said Father Joshua Duncan. “You never know what’s going to walk through your door next.”
In another video, a married couple talked about learning to love as God loves.
“The most perfect love”
A husband and wife in one of the videos suggested learning to grow in relationship with God before trying to figure out a vocation.
“The Holy Family — Jesus, Mary and Joseph — shows us how to live with sacrificial love,” Mrs. Emmerich stated after the video.
She advised the students to ask their own parents how they came to know that God was calling them to the vocation of Christian marriage.
“Talk to them about what they do to live out their vocation for God,” she suggested.
Kara Conley, a FOCUS missionary at the University of Missouri in Columbia, talked about the importance of having an active prayer life.
“Prayer is life itself!” she said. “God is love, the most perfect love. So prayer is a conversation with your lover.”
That’s the kind of love that people simply can’t keep to themselves, hence the call to mission.
“Mission calls us to fall in love with God and share that with other people,” she proclaimed.
One of the Sixth Grade Vocation Day activities involved students writing down positive and likeable traits about each of their classmates.
The point of that exercise was to reinforce that sometimes, it’s often easer to recognize such gifts from God in other people than it is to see it in oneself.
At the gathering in Fayette, the students were encouraged to ask their patron saints to join them in praying to God for help in discerning their vocation.
“They are your religious superheroes!” said Mrs. Emmerich. “They call us to prayer, and they intercede for each of us before the throne of God.”
“What can I do to please God the most?” Mrs. Emmerich asked the children. “Pray for God to send you that gentle nudge to help you know what He has in mind for you.”
Mr. Morris noted that it often takes time — sometimes years, sometimes decades — to discern one’s vocation.
That’s certainly okay with God. But it’s also important to work with God in figuring out one’s own vocation and then pursuing it with passion, Mr. Morris stated.
“Your patron saint will help you find your passion,” he stated. “We all want to become the person God created us to be. The better you get at praying, the better you get at listening, the sooner you’ll be able to figure out your vocation.”
“Here to help”
That morning, the Glasgow and Salisbury students went to Mass together in St. Mary Church in Glasgow.
Father Joshua Duncan, pastor of St. Mary Parish and of St. Joseph Parish in Fayette, told them that holiness is an adventure.
“If your faith is boring, than you’re doing it wrong!” he said.
In his own video message, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight urged all the sixth-graders to consider what God wants them to be and do.
“Think about giving back to God and expending yourself in sacrificial love,” the bishop said.
He reassured the sixth-graders that no matter where God is calling them, they will have the support of their Church.
“We’re not here to decide for you,” he noted. “We’re here to support you in making that decision.”
At the end of the day, sixth-grader Cheyenne Johnston said she liked hearing about how priests and sisters spend some of their time.
“I had a lot of fun today and made some new friends,” she said. “I hope the kids who do Sixth Grade Vocation Day after us have as much fun as we had.”
Sixth-grader Keith Bixenman enjoyed making new friends, hearing about vocations and thinking about what he can do to make God happy.
Sixth-grader Colten Stundebeck liked hearing concrete details about what priests, sisters and married couples do.
Sixth-grader Ella Linneman was reassured to hear that you don’t have to know what your vocation is right away.
“It can take a while,” she said. “So you keep trying to do what pleases God. He will help you. And being quiet is important. You don’t always have to have the music on.”
“He only gives”
Looking back on Sixth Grade Vocation Day a week after the event, Mr. Morris said he hopes the students don’t forget that a life in the Church is something that will fulfill them more than any other.
“I hope they know that God made them with a purpose, and that it is their job over the next stage of their lives to discern it,” he said. “And most of all, I want all my students to know that I am proud of them in their endeavors, no matter what vocation they have.”
Speaking in his role as diocesan vocation director, Fr. Clark noted that everyone in the community is responsible for helping people develop a relationship with Christ and discern their vocation.
In order to help move this important work forward, Fr. Clark advised parents to work on making sure their families are an environment for healthy discernment.
“It’s going to be a joyful fulfillment of the heart,” said Fr. Clark. “Like Pope Benedict XVI said, ‘Don’t be afraid of God taking anything from you. He only gives.’”