As a mom of two littles, I see daily the many responsibilities parents have for their children. Dirty diapers, half-eaten plates and lots of little toy cars often make up the majority of my days. Beyond these immediate physical responsibilities, however, I have an even greater task — preparing them for their future vocations.
This can be hard to remember as I — often armed with a lukewarm cup of coffee — take care of my home and family. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say on the matter: “Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God” (No. 2226). The Church has given parents the duty of preparing our children for the vocation God calls them to, rooted in the reality that they are God’s children first and foremost, and this is something that starts from the beginning of their lives.
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If preparing even the littlest children for their vocations is what the Church is calling us to, how can we do it practically? Here are a few ways we can respond to this invitation of the Church.
Recognize your children are a gift
In the Book of Samuel, we meet a woman named Hannah. Barren and in deep despair, she begs the Lord to send her a son. If so, she would in turn give the son back to God. She leaves this time of prayer without an answer but with great peace and restored joy. Though Hannah does receive the son she asked for, and many more children thereafter, her heart and trust are what we can model in our own lives.
First, Hannah acknowledged that God desired to hear the deepest longings of her heart, and she entrusted them to him, accepting however God decided to respond to her plea. Second, when Hannah was blessed with a son, she kept the promise she made to God by offering her son back to him, for she recognized that this son was ultimately not hers but a gift given by God. Because of this, she was able to entrust this life back to God in great thanksgiving.
In a similar way, we, too, must see our children as God’s gift to us — not to be kept to ourselves as a prize, but ultimately to be returned to him. This should shape everything about how we live our daily lives, asking God how it is he is calling us to raise our children so that they might love him with their whole lives.
Strive for holiness in your life and family
“Fortified by so many and such powerful means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father himself is perfect” (Lumen Gentium, No. 11). This statement, from the Second Vatican Council, is a reminder of the invitation each of us has, no matter our state in life, to become holy. The call to become saints is not for one particular group of people, but for all people. Because of this, a beautiful way we can prepare our children for their vocations is by living out our own call to holiness.
If we are striving to bring our families to holiness in the ways God is calling us, we will undoubtedly embed our children with habits that will help them do the same. Showing our children how to love God through modeling lives of prayer and virtue will ultimately give them the tools to seek what it is God is calling them to do with their lives.
This will take many forms and look different for every family. However, some things will look the same: striving for prayer as individuals and as a family, focusing on the sacramental life, and serving one another and the community as the family is called.
A beautiful example of this is the Martin family. Sts. Louis and Zélie made sure that the sacramental life was a priority in their family, starting with their own pursuit of holiness in their lives and in their marriage. This naturally spilled over to their children. Their five daughters that survived childhood all became religious, including one who preceded her parents in being declared a saint: Thérèse of Lisieux.
The Martins knew the gift their children were and the duty they had to raise them in the faith, ultimately offering them back to God through striving for holiness in their own family.
Expose them to all vocations
In order for children to be open to whichever vocation God calls them to, they must be familiar with the different vocations and be exposed to the beauty hidden in each one. While our children will naturally see many examples of the vocation of marriage in their life, it is also good to expose them to members of religious communities, priests and consecrated men and women when possible.
My dad’s best friend from high school became a diocesan priest, and we spent many family baptisms and get-togethers in his company. It was beautiful to see the human side of the priesthood, and it helped to cultivate in me a fascination with Jesus and the Church from a young age. Though I was too little to remember, I have heard often about how special it was for us to visit him on Christmas Eve and for me to get to place baby Jesus in the manger of his Nativity scene.
I was also blessed to have the Nashville Dominican sisters as teachers at the high school I attended. Their presence in the classroom and at community events was always striking (those habits stand out in a crowd), and they were always an icon to me of the great love of God and his desire to be with me for eternity. Through them, I saw firsthand that religious life wasn’t boring or a sad secondary option should marriage not work out for me; instead, I saw a beautiful life of peace and joy and love lived in service of God and his Church. When discerning my vocation later in life, I wasn’t afraid of the possibility that I could be called to be a religious sister as well.
My family now attends a Dominican parish, and my husband and I have tried to love our priest and seminarian friends by inviting them into our home for meals and fellowship. We also have photos in our home of our friends who are discerning religious vocations in various orders. Our hope is that this will show our children the beauty of the call to any vocation, no matter what that particular vocation is.
Pray for them
Many of us have heard the beautiful story of Sts. Monica and Augustine. Augustine, a rebel and lover of all things hedonistic, was finally converted through a series of graced events and went on to become a Doctor of the Church. Behind the great saint, however, was a holy and loving, sometimes overbearing, mother who was constantly praying for him and trying to win him back for God.
It can be hard to remember that prayer is the most essential thing we can do for our children, especially when it comes to their vocations. While their physical needs are many and seemingly unending, their spiritual needs are also our responsibility as we raise and form them. When we pray for our children, we entrust them to God and order our desires for them with his.
In the book “Raising Catholic Kids for Their Vocations,” Claire Grabowski recalls hearing her mother pray fervently for her future spouse and how much of an impact that had on her as a young girl. Reading this was a beautiful invitation for me to start planting the seeds of vocation and, ultimately, holiness in my children through speaking these same prayers out loud.
While our children will have to one day make these vocational decisions on their own, using the gift of free will given to them and to every human person, God has entrusted these little souls to us to prepare them and form them for these and all other future choices. It’s never too early — or too late, for that matter — to begin thinking about and praying for their future vocations, spouses, orders and callings. Even single women hoping to get married or young wives who are not yet mothers can pray for their future children and families, for God is outside of time.
It also is appropriate to ask for help from others as well. Grandparents, godparents, friends and family can all participate in praying for your children, especially for their vocations. We know that now, more than ever, the Church is in desperate need of holy men and women to rise to the great call to holiness that God has given to us. Because of this, we must take seriously the call to pray for and encourage the vocations in our children, families and communities.