"Human beings are now profiling as "un-vocational" beings" (2/3)

Friar Fabián Martín, Augustinian Recollect, explains how is understood by "vocation" and how it has lost meaning in today's society. He also shares his opinion on how vocational culture has been understood by our religious.
News | 2021 Apr 08

It would be good to start with defining the term and your understanding of what "vocation" means.

It has many meanings. Outside the religious context, it may mean a form of self-realization, especially in the professional field, for example, the vocation to be a teacher, a doctor, an engineer, a philosopher, etc.

Within the Christian faith, it also has more than one meaning, but primarily it refers to different forms of how a baptized chooses to live his/her Christian life within a "specific vocation". The term is also used when a person feels called to do something specific for a certain amount of time and a particular place. There are many ways it can be defined and applied.  

I define it as a Christian spiritual experience in which the person progressively discovers as intuition in his/her heart that God invites us to get on the path that takes us to who we are called to be.

A vocation is a dynamic and living reality. This "vocational condition" in human and Christian life is gradually unfolding and manifesting in a deep desire for meaning and happiness. The last call we must all respond to is death, and as Christians, we are confident that it is the start of a life of the spirit that has no end.

It is said that the most severe problem that human beings have today - in Western culture- is that they feel "un-vocational"; they don't consider themselves called. What may be the reasons behind this?

This is only one of many symptoms when we astray from ourselves and the most essentials things in life, such as truth. We look for happiness far out from where it truly is, or there is no interest in searching for the meaning of life. We find pleasure in immediate images, sounds, and in the intensity of superficial emotions. We must not be against this undeniable reality. Still, we must complement it with spaces for silence, meditation, search for our true self, and care for deep personal conversations with others, with nature, and with God through his word and prayer.

The 2018 Synod of Bishops, who dedicated their sessions to "Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment," spoke about the urgency to correct the wrong idea that we are determined by luck and chance and that our vocation is a private matter. It is crucial to offer conditions for developing an authentic vocational culture and a constant commitment to prayer for vocations (cf. Concluding document of the Synod on Young People, n. 80). May we leave these gospel seeds in the conscience of young people: "I have a vocation" and "I have a mission to accomplish in this world".

Is the vocational crisis a general problem or just to the religious and priesthood vocations? What could be done in the Province?

All the places where we have religious communities are so different that a single suggestion cannot be offered. The social and cultural reality which I've mentioned before affects vocations in general. The vocation to the consecrated life is affected even more because it is more demanding in commitment and self-sacrifice.

We must also do some self-criticism. God continues to call, but at times our credibility lacks coherence. There is also a crisis in our lack of witnessing love and joy for our vocation. Interestingly, most people showing interest in entering our seminaries are not from our communities or ministries. Why? I don't know. This could be an invitation on behalf of the Lord to shine brighter with the light of the gospel, the joy in our mission, and a particular passion toward the poor.

Has the Province of St. Nicholas of Tolentine assimilated a vocational culture's ideas in its efforts to promote vocations in its different ministries?

Unfortunately, the mentality amongst our friars is that there is a friar in charge of this work. The friars lack a sense of responsibility in work for vocations promotion. Yes, we all pray for vocations, but no other efforts are being made. As vocational promoters, we try to do our best to be at all the places where we are invited to talk or speak with young men showing interest in the religious vocation. I must admit this traditional way of doing vocational promotion is already obsolete and does not correspond with what Church is or the mystery of communion and mission.

In this sense, it is vital to generate a new pastoral practice regarding pastoral vocations in our communities:"We are all agents of animation of vocations". This slogan is not simply a maxim but is born of the same understanding of the Church as a mystery of communion and mission. The Church is the Mother of all vocations. The spirit calls each local community to promote those structures and processes necessary for the vocational awakening of the new generations and ensure accompaniment in the search and discernment of the specific vocation. Jesus' young disciples must find sufficient support and help to come to discover and accomplish that mission for which they came into the world.

We need an urgent change of mindset regarding the promotion of vocations. This would have to replace the current practice of expecting the vocations promoter to do all the work. Every single friar would have to assume the pastoral obligation of promoting vocations permanently with their own example of life and openly inviting young men to respond to God’s calling. From this perspective, laypeople can and must also be prepared to encourage others to live their calling in their local communities. This way, the pastoral actions of promoting vocations will be more authentic with laypeople talking about the vocation they have chosen and are living and at the same time inviting all to respond to Christ's calling.

Traditionally, access to young people was given by the method of "recruitment", then in schools and parish ministries, with young people in catechetical processes. Are these methods still in force, and do they offer possibilities for personal contact with the youth?

Amongst the friars of our Province, many mentalities, visions, and practices are offered to do vocations promotion that it is sometimes difficult for us to agree on one particular method. Indeed, some people committed to the pastoral care of animation of vocations - whether religious or lay in vocational teams - feel more comfortable working with an old-fashioned vocational pastoral care style; of course, different from the one proposed in the Order's Vocational Pastoral Plan. Some possess a vision of vocational pastoral care as activities of "recruitment" of vocations for the house of formation.

In this regard, I believe that the change of mindset that comes with abandoning those pastoral styles learned, experienced, and that worked, to assume new practices, costs a lot, especially when there is no openness of mind and heart to change. In this sense, vocational pastoral care coordination requires an attitude of listening and respect to recover the best of each vision, seeking to add all in the same direction.

Most vocational agents in our Province are committed to integrating vocational promotion to other pastoral ministries such as family, evangelization, care for the sick, catechesis, RCIA, youth groups in schools and parishes. They include the promotion of vocations within an integral pastoral care of their ministry.

What activities are carried out with candidates before entering the training house - postulated or aspirated?

According to the criteria shared at the last meeting of the Order's vocational promoters in April 2019 in San José de Costa Rica, no candidate should enter our training homes without first having been at least eight months of accompaniment for vocational discernment. Practically, this time is extended to one year. During this year, several vocational coexistences (between six and eight) are programmed and carried out, usually in identical training houses or foster homes. Vocational coexistences and retreats are intended to offer some keys and tools to live a vocational discernment.

During that year, the seventeen vocational records counted in the Order are filled out as a working instrument for personal and group accompaniment. Several accompanying personal interviews are conducted with the candidates, in which what is raised in the same process is shared. Their families are visited. Tests are applied to offer the candidates more knowledge of themselves. It is also a time to get familiar with some of the Order's history, charism, and spirituality.

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Augustinian Recollects Province of St. Nicholas of Tolentine.

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