It’s not always easy to follow the path God has in mind.
But it is always worthwhile.
“Ultimately, vocation is the call to be a saint,” Father Paul Clark, vocation director for the Jefferson City diocese, told an enthusiastic crowd of Catholic sixth-graders from all over the Jefferson City diocese.
It was Sixth Grade Vocation Day, held fully in-person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The theme for the May 3 event, proclaimed on the front and back of the T-shirts worn by participants, was: “Called to Sainthood ... Be Not Afraid!”
“We are called to become like those in the heavenly kingdom who fought the good fight, achieved that crown of victory that’s been promised to us and taken up into the great cloud of witnesses in heaven,” Fr. Clark announced.
He noted that answering the call can be scary.
“When we think of what saints do, we might think, ‘There’s no way I can do that!’” he stated.
He presented a daunting question: “Are we willing to give our lives completely for Jesus? Would we be willing to die for Jesus?”
It’s an intimidating question, but again and again, Jesus reminds his followers not to be afraid.
“To be a saint will be the fulfillment of our deepest desire, placed within us by the one who created us,” said Fr. Clark. “It will bring us the greatest joy and satisfaction.”
He noted that everyone has a calling from God.
Some are called to be husbands, wives and parents in the Sacrament of Matrimony. Some are called to be religious sisters and brothers. Some are called to be priests.
“That particular calling within our universal call to strive for holiness is the path to heaven God has in mind for each of us,” said Fr. Clark.
“And whatever that path to heaven is for you, know that it is going to be good!” he stated.
Every vocation is an opportunity for people to say, “Yes, Lord, you can have my heart back.”
“It’s making a gift of our heart back to him who gave it to us in the first place, who created us and gave us life — in service to God and to one another,” said Fr. Clark.
“We don’t have to be afraid of it, because it’s going to be amazing,” he said.
All are being sent
Fr. Clark said Sixth Grade Vocation Day is a time to have fun, listen, pray and ask God, “What great things do you have in mind for me?”
The sixth-graders attended several impact sessions, each highlighting a vocation in a particular way.
Married couples, a Dominican sister, a Benedictine monk and several priests and seminarians answered questions and talked about what their vocation means to them.
Christian and Kate Basi, members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, talked to a group about marriage.
“Our focus was that love is a choice, not an emotion,” said Mrs. Basi.
They used the passage from 1 Corinthians 13, often proclaimed at weddings, that presents the ideal of pure, selfless love.
Mrs. Basi talked about once having been engaged to an atheist.
A mother who was serving as a chaperone in the group asked her to talk more about that time in her life.
“It gave me an opening to talk to the girls about what a healthy relationship looks like and what it doesn’t look like, the importance of respecting each other’s human dignity, and how dating is a way to learn what kind of person you are compatible with,” she said.
Father Daniel Merz, pastor of St. Thomas More Newman Center Parish in Columbia, likened going to seminary or entering discernment for a religious community to going on a date: “You’re not yet married, but it is a commitment to get to know the potential spouse.”
He noted that wives of former seminarians often tell him that the best preparation for marriage for their husbands was going to the seminary, where they learned how to be a better husband and father.
Sister Suzanne Walker of the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, New York, said everyone has a role to play in continuing Jesus’s work here on earth.
“We are the apostles of today,” she stated. “The responsibility has been passed on to all of us to continue to spread the Good News and help others know and follow Jesus Christ.
“This is to be done through whatever vocation we choose to follow,” she said.
“Toward eternal life”
Brother Placid Dale was talking about the vow of poverty he took upon becoming a professed member of the Benedictine community at Conception Abby in northwestern Missouri.
“I personally don’t have any money,” he pointed.
“So you’re broke?” a sixth-grader fired back.
After the laughter died down, he explained that everything at the monastery is held in common, and all of his needs are provided for.
“But I personally don’t own anything at all,” he said.
Brother Placid spoke of living under the monastic Rule of St. Benedict.
He talked about the process of entering monastic life, which involves taking vows to live, work and pray in a community of monks in one monastery, pursuing constant conversion toward Christ under the authority of their abbot.
He shed light on the rhythm of the day that promotes constant balance between work, prayer, study, fellowship and rest.
He reiterated that every Christian’s first vocation is to help Jesus draw people to himself.
“We’re all called to be saints,” Brother Placid noted. “We become saints by listening to God and by journeying toward God in this life.
“God is wanting to give us the tools we need to move toward him,” he said, “to move toward eternal life with him.”
How does someone figure out his or her specific vocation?
“You start by praying and listening to God,” said Brother Placid. “You have to ask God, ‘What it is that you’re calling me to be?’”
He acknowledged that God’s answer to that question can be jarring at first.
“But God knows your heart even better than you do,” the brother said. “He tells us not to be afraid, but just to listen, and he will bring you great happiness.”
Not that it’s always easy.
“It’s like anything else,” said Brother Placid. “If you ask a married couple if every day is perfect, they’d say no. But they are happy nonetheless.”
Sr. Suzanne spoke of how God sent Jesus to restore his broken relationship with his people.
Jesus appointed a group of friends to help him teach and heal.
People in authority would not accept his teaching and eventually plotted to have him executed.
He died on a cross but rose from the dead three days later, stamping out death and opening the gates of heaven.
He ascended to the Father after 40 days but sent the Holy Spirit to give his followers strength and courage to continue his work on earth.
“And from that time over 2,000 years ago,” Sr. Suzanne noted, “people have been getting the Holy Spirit and telling people about Jesus.”
It’s everyone’s responsibility.
“Whether you’re a parent, a single person, a sixth-grader, a religious sister, a brother, a priest, a deacon, a bishop — whoever you are, we all have a responsibility to tell others about Jesus,” she said.
“You do that by the way you talk, the way you act,” she noted.
Sr. Suzanne talked about the many different orders and congregations of religious sisters in the world.
“They all want to help people know God and get closer to him,” she said, “but they each have a little different model, a different way of going about it.”
She recounted the path she took toward becoming a sister, and how that eventually led her back to Monroe City, her hometown, to teach and serve as principal.
She reminded the sixth-graders to ask God to help them discover and embrace the vocation God has in mind for them.
“We can’t do anything if we don’t have Jesus in our heart,” she noted. “We need to know Jesus and have him by our side.”
“He will lead you”
The event, sponsored each year by the diocesan Vocations Office, also included lunch, games in the school gym, and Benediction in church.
“The sixth-graders were awesome, well behaved, and had some great questions,” said Father Stephen Jones, diocesan director of stewardship for the diocese.
Sr. Suzanne said she saw many wonderful sixth-graders at the event.
“I hope you listen to God,” she told them. “He will tell you, he will lead you.”