purpose of all our work as parents is, of course, to prepare our
children to cooperate with God's grace, to choose the vocation He has
ready for them and to carry out that vocation to the full. In the last
two chapters, we have been considering this aspect of the children's
preparation for life here and hereafter, how to give them some
understanding of the whole fourfold work of Christians in this world,
and some experience and training in each kind. It may be well,
therefore, to consider next how we may best give them a realistic idea
of each of the chief ways of life, or what are commonly called
"vocations" in the Church.
The first essential here is, obviously, that, by the time the children
reach an age to choose their own way of life, they may have some real
grasp of the Christian vocation as a whole. We must try to make sure,
in other words, that they realize that their lives on earth are given
them for the purpose of being united with conformed to, Christ in His
Passion and Death so as to share with Him in the glory of His
In terms of the life ahead of them, this realization implies that the
children understand that no way of life is meant to be easy, that they
have no right to future freedom from want or care. It means that they
look forward to life as an heroic adventure, a chance to spend
themselves and be spent with Christ for the sake of His members.
It means that they understand, as well as young people can, that many
stretches of their lives will seem painful, many will seem difficult,
many will seem dull, but that all this is a sharing in Christ's Cross
with the assurance of sharing in His victory, and all this, if lived
with Christ and for the glory of God's love, will be permeated with the
vitality and joy of the Holy Spirit.
Young people are normally heroic-minded, they want to be called on for
heroism, they want to be convinced that their strength and talents can
be used for some great cause. We shall, therefore, have the assistance
both of grace and nature in giving them the Christian view of their
On the other hand, we shall obviously have to contend with the whole
tone of the society in which we and our children are living, which
encourages young people to believe that security and success,
especially security, are the two chief aims of life, that one is
entitled to a "good living," especially if one has had a "good
education," that if one obeys all the rules one will inevitably "get
ahead." And we shall also have to take into account the depressing
undertones registered in much modern literature and in the actual
mental and emotional state of innumerable ordinary citizens, that life
actually is a rather dreary fuss about very little, so you might as
well get as much out of it as you can when you are young.
We shall need, then, to try to debunk both these ideas, to offset both
these mental tones, as the children become aware of them and begin to
react to them. We shall have to show the children from actual cases,
first, that no human life is in fact easy or inevitably prosperous, and
that in any case people who are called successful are not necessarily
We shall have to show them that, in consequence, when our Lord gives us
the chance to use our lives for Him, following Him in His Passion, He
is not making our lives dismal--as if they could be comfortable and
serene if we were allowed to live them on a purely natural level;
rather He is taking the stuff of actual human life which is, by and
large, dreary and dismal indeed when it is not lived in Him and for
Him, and giving it real meaning and purpose, glorifying it with the
glory of His victory over death and sin, and making it truly joyful
with the joy of His resurrection.
Giving the children this dynamic pattern of Christian life, at least
implicitly, is of course the supreme work of all the years of their
training. But at the time when they are seriously beginning to think of
their choice of a way of life, they will want and need trusted advisors
other than their parents. We should, then, look forward to this time
when explicit teaching from us about the future will probably be of no
use to our children, and try to see to it that they have come to know
and trust and confide in other people, laymen, religious, and priests,
who are endeavoring to live heroically Christian lives. Our part then
will probably be that of prayer; whatever else we can do to help our
children find their vocation will, in the main, have been done already.
Within the unity of the one Christian pattern of life, the great
Christian vocation, the children will need to know something of each of
the chief ways of Christian life and of the special place of each in
carrying out the one work of Christ, the redemption of mankind.17 Of
course, nobody can fully appreciate what a vocation implies until one
is actually living it; but one can know what are its essential features
according to God's plan, what are accidentals, and what each vocation
is not meant to be.
But we owe our children at least that much of a grasp of all the great
"vocations" in the Church, so that they may have all the information
they need in order to cooperate intelligently and freely with God's
grace in their choice of a vocation, and also that they may be better
fitted to carry out that vocation fully. For, since all vocations are
meant by God to contribute their own share to the one work of Christ,
the more a man appreciates what other people are doing, the better can
he carry out his own special task. The greater the priest, the more
fully he appreciates the work of laity and religious; the greater the
layman, the more he appreciates his priests and religious, and so on.
We want our children, then, to see a vocation to the priesthood as a
call to become another Christ in the very special sense of taking part
in His work of mediation between God and man in a unique and special
way. All Christians share by Baptism and Confirmation in our Lord's
office as Priest; but our share can only be made fully operative by the
special work of the ordained priesthood.
We marry and have children to bring to the font of re-birth in Christ;
the priest baptizes them. We train them to be Christ's soldiers and
co-workers; the Bishop gives them by Confirmation their actual
commission and the powers to act on it. We gather human learning and
experience; the priest teaches us God's truth from day to day so that
in its light and by its power we may continually transform our human
experience into Christian wisdom.
We rule ourselves and our families and our businesses to try to provide
the necessary order, the conditions of human and Christian living; the
priest rules some part of Christ's flock so as to make our lives
fruitful for life everlasting.
We bring to the sacrifice of the Mass our whole lives and work, along
with the money our work has earned to provide the materials for the
sacrifice; the priest transforms the bread and wine into the Body and
Blood of Christ, makes it possible for us to offer ourselves in His
offering, and gives us Christ's Body in holy Communion to unite us
together in love, to give us the energy for Christian living, to
transform us into Him.
It is the work of Christ's priest, then, to unite God and man, to make
the life of the people of God both possible and fruitful. He it is who,
as Christ's special instrument, gives other people's lives their
Christian meaning and value. Like the Holy Father himself, the chief
Shepherd of Christ's flock on earth, every priest is the "servant of
the servants of God," and so he achieves his own sanctity by this
splendid and selfless service.
Thus the priest's vocation is unique. He is part of the teaching,
ruling, sanctifying hierarchy of the Church; all the rest of us make up
the laos, the People of God, all leading the one Christian life.
Now the highest way of living this Christian life is, of course, as a
religious. For religious are called to specialize in the acts of the
virtue of religion, the acts that directly bind man to God: taking part
in the Mass, the Divine Office, prayer. We married people ordinarily
have to subordinate to the works and duties of our own state in life
more than the essential minimum of such strictly "religious" actions.
But for the religious they constitute, as laid out in his Rule, the
very essence of his daily life.
Again, religious are called to specialize directly in living and
perfecting themselves in the bridal relationship of the Church with
Christ. We all share in this relationship as Christians; it is the very
purpose of our existence; but married people are called to work towards
perfect union with Christ as it were indirectly, by learning and
practicing the love of each other in Christian marriage. Religious, on
the other hand, explicitly by vow, deny themselves the symbol, and go
straight toward the reality, the eternal Marriage of redeemed mankind
In the same way, we who are in the world try to use goods and
possessions rightly so as to bring them into the sphere of Christ's
life and work, so as to help to restore all things in Him. But
religious deny themselves the free use of possessions so as to be freer
for the work of uniting themselves to God. We who are in the world are
sanctified by our obedience to God's will as it is shown to us in the
Commandments, in the duties of our state and work, and in all the
circumstances of our lives. But religious are called to take the far
clearer and surer way of obedience, under the Commandments, to their
Rules and to their Superiors.
A vocation to the religious life is, then, a call to a state of life
higher and more extraordinary than that of marriage and lay life in the
world for the reason that it dispenses with the, so to speak, slower
and more indirect means of sanctification which are necessary for the
majority of Christians. The religious life takes a difficult but clear
and straight shortcut to the summit of the mountain; married and lay
life is planned by God to arrive at the same goal by a less clear, more
winding path which has been suited by His mercy to the needs of His
There is also the vocation which seems to be a special answer to the
special needs of today--a life of dedicated virginity in the world,
lived in family-like groups, whose purpose it is to give an example of
integral Christian living, and to work out ways and means of helping
other people to live fully Christian lives. This vocation is
essentially "lay," in that it implies no withdrawal from the world
(using the word in its good sense, as in "God so loved the world"), but
rather a special study and effort to carry out the lay vocation of
using the things of the world rightly.
It also shares in the complete dedication of self directly to Christ,
which is characteristic of the religious. The vocation to a lay
institute would seem to be a call to live the life of a religious, but,
because of one's special circumstances or work, to lead this life in
the world, not in a cloister.
The special characteristic of a vocation for a single Christian "in the
world" consists in its freedom to concentrate on carrying out some
particular work for the sake of Christ and His members. A priest is
bound to answer the call of his bishop in serving the flock of Christ
as a priest. No special taste, talent or training for, say, writing or
teaching chemistry or scientific research can be put ahead of his
obedient service as a priest of Christ's flock.
The religious is also bound primarily by his whole rule of life, by the
day's schedule and by his obedient service of the good of the whole
community. His superiors may take his special tastes, talents, or
training into consideration in assigning him to his work, or they may
not; he may be changed from one field to another overnight, if the good
of his soul and the community demands it.
Obviously, too, married people are obligated first of all to the duties
and demands of their state of life. Husband and wife are bound,
ordinarily to arrange their lives so as to have time and energy to
perfect their married life; parents are bound, again in general, to
keep sufficient time and energy for the work of parenthood. Only the
single Christian "in the world" is free to concentrate on his work, to
put his special work for God and his neighbor above the demands of a
whole pattern of life directed toward the same service.
This characteristic of freedom from the demands of a special Christian
pattern of life for a particular form of Christian work gives this
state of life its value as a preparation for the other vocations of
Christian living. It leaves young men and women free to try various
kinds of work, free to prepare themselves for some special work and to
get started in it, before they take on a whole pattern of life into
which that work must be fitted.
Since our children will certainly be leading this single life "in the
world" from the time that they take over the responsibility for
arranging their own lives until they enter, if they do, into the
priesthood or religious life or marriage (all during the years of their
college and professional training, for instance), we should give them
some idea of its special value and of its special hazards, the hazards
that arise out of its very freedom from a pattern or from the demands
of the other ways of life.
Various kinds of formal dedication to the single Christian life and to
some special work are ways of making explicit the fact that this way of
life is not meant to be only a stage on the road to other vocations,
but may also be a true vocation in itself. And this vocation lacks the
safeguards, the supports, the frame-work of the others, while it puts
itself at the service of all the others. Christian family living, the
works of the priesthood and religious, all are made less difficult and
more fruitful by the work of the single Christian. All of us should in
gratitude give him or her the honor that is due to one who is pursuing
such a great vocation of service, whether it was more or less inspired
by the will of God under the guise of circumstances, or undertaken of
As our children begin to ask questions about each state of life, we can
begin to outline the characteristics of each vocation. And we can also
do everything in our power to see that they come to know men and women
who are leading these vocations to the full. But our special task as
parents in preparing our children for the choice of a vocation is,
surely, to show them as fully as we can during all the years of their
growth the special characteristics, rewards, and difficulties of our
own state of life, the vocation of marriage. For such understanding of
this vocation as our own home life can give, should shed light on many
aspects of other vocations as well.
The first necessity here is, surely, that we ourselves should be
convinced that marriage is a vocation, that is, a Christian way of life
planned by God to lead men and women to holiness; and that we should be
trying to act accordingly. We must, then, take every means in our
power--study, prayer, thought, effort--to convince ourselves that
marriage is truly a way of holiness, the way that God has chosen for
We must avoid all temptations even to dream about how much holier,
healthier, more fully developed, etc., we might have been in some other
state--temptations that occasionally beset even the most happily
married!--for such dreams bear fruit in our remarks and our outward
attitude, and the children may come to feel that we are bitter against
home life and marriage as such.
For this purpose, most of us need frequently to re-think and meditate
on the fact that marriage has been planned by God as the usual vocation
not only of mankind in general, but of the great majority of His own
people, the holy nation, the royal priesthood of the Church. And in the
light of the sacramental principle of His dealings with us, we can
begin to see why He did so. For the way of Christian marriage is
beautifully suited to the needs of human creatures who are made up of
bodies and souls, and inclined by original and actual sin to make too
much of the needs of their bodies.
The essential characteristic of Christian marriage is to lead us by
means of the rightful use of our physical powers, as well as our mental
and spiritual, to the fullness of knowledge and love and service of
God. Our Lord has made marriage a sacrament, the sacrament which is the
sign of the union between Christ and His Church for which mankind was
made. The whole life of marriage, then, and the act which is
characteristic of that life, partake of the sacredness of this union
between Christ and His Church, and are means toward our achieving it
more and more perfectly.
The great difficulty about the vocation of marriage for many of us
today (especially, perhaps, what are called well-educated men and
women) is to learn how to appreciate the sacramental value of the whole
physical side of married life, not only of the marriage act, but of all
the processes of childbearing and child care and of ordinary household
tasks. A great many of us never realized until we were married and had
children that human life was so very physical, or that so much time and
effort has to be spent on basic physical needs. Our education, our
special training, our 'careers' had given us to suppose that our bodies
were more or less incidental to our human make-up, rather useful
instruments, perhaps, or annoying handicaps, but not to be particularly
considered in getting ahead either on earth or toward heaven.
We need, then, to devote thought and prayer to the sacramental
significance which God Himself has given to all the basic functions of
ordinary married and home life. We need to realize, (at least in the
depths of our souls, if not explicitly at the end of Monday morning),
that cooking and cleaning and tidying and so on are not merely
regrettable necessities in family life, but are meant by God to raise
our minds and our hearts to Him, and to be a part of our reasonable
service of Him in the vocation of marriage.
If we try to live, then, as if the whole of married life were truly a
vocation, our children should grow up with some real idea of what
Christian marriage is and is meant to be. They will see it neither as a
path of roses, starting at the altar on the wedding morning, along
which a young man and woman and a growing train of healthy happy
children dance easily up to the gates of heaven, nor as a dreary form
of human bondage into which the majority of mankind is trapped by the
force of sexual desire and the pressure of society and circumstances.
(Nor as the horrid combination of these two pictures which is the
impression given by all too many Catholic writers and preachers.)
The children will realize, rather, that Christian marriage rightly
lived is the vocation in which we learn to love God and all our
neighbors with the love of Christ, primarily by loving one man or
woman, and some special children; that it is the vocation of trying to
use rightly the things that are seen for the sake of the unseen God;
and of helping to build up His kingdom by helping Him to make and form
its chosen stones, our children.
Such a view of marriage should also shed light on the other great
vocations of Christian life, as they resemble it or differ from it. And
it should also help to prevent our children from choosing the wrong
vocation, or from choosing the right one for mistaken or warped
motives. For one thing, they should not be easily misled into thinking
that holiness and the full service of God and neighbor can only be
sought in the priesthood or the religious life, for they will have
learned that these are the purposes of every Christian life.
Nor will they think that the desire to spend themselves and their
talents for God can be satisfied only in the priesthood or the
dedicated single life. They will not think that marriage or 'ordinary
life' is meant to be an easy way to heaven, so that they would be
likely to refuse a real call to the priesthood or religious life or the
dedicated single life on the grounds of hardship or difficulty. Nor
will there be, please God, any of that shrinking from sex or mistaken
valuation of its pleasures which can so complicate both the choice of a
vocation and its fulfillment.
And so the children should be at least comparatively free to choose
their own vocation and life work in accordance with God's will. They
should be free to put the question in the right form: What does God
want me to do? rather than: What do I want to do, like to do, think I
can get ahead in, etc. And they should then be free to use all the
proper means to find the right answer to that question--their own
knowledge of themselves and their capabilities, circumstances, the
advice of authorities, and, above all, prayer and the search to conform
themselves to God's will.
Then, even if they do not feel sure of what God wants of them when they
finish their education, even if they have to feel their way, to try
various kinds of work, to take the first step towards more than one
vocation, they will be sure that God does have a vocation for them, and
that if they keep asking and seeking and knocking, in His own best time
He will show them what it is.
1. What is the meaning of the term "Christian vocation"? Does the term
have meaning only for those who enter the religious life?
2. What are the chief aims of life according to secular standards?
3. What is the work of Christ's priests?
4. What are the characteristics of a call to the life of a single
Christian in the world?
5. What, according to the author, are the most important aspects of
1. Discuss the author's statement that "Young people are normally
heroic-minded." To what extent does the secular standard of security
and pleasure and ease affect modern youth? How can we rebuild the
mentality that the various Christian vocations are challenging and
exciting and truly satisfying?
2. List the various factors that seem to be productive of religious
vocations in families. What can be done to increase the number of
3. Discuss marriage as a vocation. What does the author mean by stating
that we must learn "to appreciate the sacramental value of the whole
physical side of married life."
4. Discuss the role of parents in aiding their children to choose the
right vocation, and for the right reasons. Is there any danger that
children will be poorly prepared for their vocation even if they have
the right motive?
5. Reflect on the dignity of the priesthood. What practices and
attitudes on the part of parents help to build a respectful and
balanced understanding of the clergy in the minds of the children? What
practices and attitudes may lead to critical and unappreciative ideas
about the function of the priesthood?
The Christian Pattern
"...You Did It Unto Me"
Training for Life's Work and
Redeeming the Times
Attaining Our Ideals