“Genuflecting can be a great workout!”
Maddie Greenway and about 1,200 other sixth- and seventh-graders learned that and many other important lessons during the Jefferson City diocese’s 2021 Sixth (and Seventh) Grade Vocation Day.
“It’s not just about what you’re going to be but what you’re going to do,” said Maddie, a sixth-grader at St. Patrick School in Rolla. “Even if you don’t know what your vocation is, you can still do things. You can serve and sacrifice for others by doing things like volunteering and helping people.”
This year’s event was held virtually in schools and other Catholic venues throughout the diocese.
Seventh-graders got to take part in this year’s Sixth Grade Vocation Day because last year’s event had to be cancelled due to the pandemic.
The theme for the day was “Chosen for Mission.”
Father Paul Clark, diocesan vocation director, and Sister M. Karolyn Nunes FSGM, vocation director for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, gave the keynote talks and led the closing activities from the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City.
Sixth- and seventh-graders from St. Joseph Cathedral School attended both sessions in person.
Participants also watched video snapshots of various vocations in the Church — including marriage, consecrated religious life, and the ministerial Priesthood.
Teachers at each school led discussions on topics ranging from holiness to discernment.
Students indulged in a most unusual scavenger hunt that combined items to be found and tasks to be completed.
Each wore a specially designed T-shirt bearing an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the “Chosen for Mission” theme.
Named, known and chosen
Sr. M. Karolyn and Fr. Clark emphasized repeatedly that every baptized Christian has one vocation or calling in life: to become a saint.
“And the one thing the saints all have in common is that they were holy,” said Sr. M. Karolyn.
“To be holy is to become perfect in love,” she noted. “If you perfectly love God and you perfectly love your neighbor, then you are holy and therefore have what it takes to be a saint.”
Within that universal call to holiness, God creates each individual with a specific purpose in mind.
“We are intentionally created and particularly chosen,” said Sr. M. Karolyn. “God personally calls us to this mission which will help us learn how to love in the best way possible.”
Since God creates all people in His own image and likeness (Genesis 1:27), they are made to be loved and to love completely, and to know and be fully known.
“Our call to holiness means that we are called to love — to love God and our neighbor,” said Fr. Clark, who is associate pastor of St. Thomas More Newman Center Parish and a chaplain at Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School, both in Columbia.
Just as people formally receive their name at baptism, that is also when they receive their calling from God.
“Just as when Christ comes up out of the River Jordan and the Father says, ‘This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased,’” said Fr. Clark, “we are by baptism identified in that same way. We are marked as beloved sons and daughters of the Father.”
“That is our deepest identity,” Fr. Clark insisted. “Everything else flows from that.”
“We are chosen by name and given a specific mission,” he stated.
“And when that happens, everything changes,” said Sr. M. Karolyn.
Start by asking
People discover their individual calling by staying focused on love and service while praying and listening to God not just with the mind but also the heart.
“Every vocation is a chance for me to give my heart to another, out of love for God and in service to my brothers and sisters,” said Fr. Clark.
Sr. M. Karolyn talked about how she came to know that she wanted to serve God in some way.
Something happened the first time she visited the FSGM convent in Alton, Illinois.
“Something there touched me and it was like an explosion happened inside me,” she said. “I just totally felt like myself and I felt totally alive.”
Fr. Clark discovered his priestly calling in a similar way.
“I found out that as I started getting involved in service, giving my heart to others through community service or volunteering, mission trips and things like that, I started to learn how my heart was made to be given in a specific mission,” he said.
They said grade school is an excellent time to start asking God some important questions.
“All of you are at a point where it’s important to start asking God, ‘What mission do You have in mind for me? What are You calling me to be?’” said Fr. Clark.
Through a series of short videos, classroom discussions and quiet meditation throughout the day, the sixth- and seventh-graders received expert insights about discerning their vocation.
Among the featured speakers were seminarians for the diocese, a married couple and Bishop W. Shawn McKnight.
Each participant received a prayer journal so they could write down whatever thoughts or insights they wanted to remember about the day.
Fr. Clark led a lighthearted “Catholic calisthenics” video, revealing new ways for young people to put their faith into action.
The students of Sacred Heart School in Rich Fountain won the scavenger hunt competition, taking only 30 minutes to submit to the organizers photos of all the items on the list.
Items included spelling out the word “chosen” with shoes.
Priests at each participating school offered Mass and preached homilies on the day’s readings.
The Gospel reading was from John 15, in which Jesus tells His Apostles to remain connected to Him just as branches are connected to a vine, in order to bear great fruit.
“Being a branch on the vine means we are all active participants in being a disciple,” Father Joshua Duncan, administrator of St. Mary Parish in Glasgow and St. Joseph Parish in Fayette, told students at an all-school Mass that morning.
“That means each of us has a mission, and our mission is ongoing,” he said. “Just as branches are constantly receiving the sap and nutrients and graces, Jesus is inviting each of us to stay connected to Him but to go out and be disciples in whatever mission He calls us to in life.”
He emphasized that holiness is the greatest adventure of all.
“Keep pursuing that adventure,” he said, “because God will never let you down.”
Freedom from fear
Fr. Clark and Sr. M. Karolyn closed out the event with another livestream presentation.
They guided students in asking, thinking and listening to God, thanking Him for making them in His image and likeness and giving them a unique mission in life.
Between the prayers and meditations, Sr. M. Karolyn led the singing of a simple refrain, “I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.”
The big take-away for seventh-grader Roman Stanislawski was that the vocation God has in mind for him will be what brings him the most joy.
“I’m going to figure out what it is by trying different things and praying,” said Roman, who goes to St. Patrick School in Rolla.
St. Patrick seventh-grader Lucy Conger was struck by the message that God knows her personally and has chosen her as an individual.
“He loves me for me, on a personal level,” she said. “Not that anyone is greater or lesser than me, but that I know Him personally and I can relate to Him and talk to Him.”
Beau Heese, a seventh-grader at St. Patrick, came away with greater confidence that God will help him find his vocation.
“He has it all planned out,” said Beau. “He’ll make it known to me where He stands.”
Sixth-grader Ellie Meyerott said she started out the day wanting to be a “single Pringle” when she grows up.
“But after watching the video about marriage, I think maybe that’s what I’m being called to,” she said.
St. Patrick sixth-grader Michael McLaughlin enjoyed the Christian calisthenics activity led by Fr. Clark, who once served as associate pastor in Rolla.
“We’re going to ask the bishop to send him back,” said Michael.
Their teacher, Anna Starns, noted that this year’s Sixth and Seventh Grade Vocation Day was different in many ways from past years’ offerings.
“But for a virtual experience, it was really excellent,” she said. “The amount of time and effort Fr. Clark and his team put into the videos and activities was incredible.”
Just the beginning
Ellie asked for prayers for God to help her find her vocation.
Maddie took that prayer a step further: “for all young people, including us, for God to help us find our vocation early so we have more time to get better at it.”
Fr. Duncan requested prayers for the young people who participated in the event to receive the gift of a listening heart.
“I’m praying that today will be the beginning of a very special personal conversation between them and God,” he said.