"It takes a village to raise a child." That is the wisdom of an African proverb, and there is a great truth in it. I am willing to bet that most, if not all parents would say that they did not raise their children on their own. In fact, they could not raise them on their own. They needed the help of others so that their children could grow and mature into the people they have become today.
As the Roman Catholic Church celebrates Vocations Awareness Week January 9-16, I would like to propose a new, yet similar proverb about vocations to religious life and priesthood: "It takes the Church to raise a vocation."
Certainly, in every vocation, there is an essential element that is intimately personal and even individual. After all, from the moment of our baptisms, God uniquely loves and calls each and every one of us by name.
That is why one of my favorite parts of the Rite of Baptism is when the priest or deacon asks the parents what name they give their child. In that simple, yet amazing moment we learn the name by and through which God will adopt and lead that child into becoming the saint that only he or she can be.
Moreover, we each have to give our own fiat or "yes" to God, giving the Holy Spirit permission to shape and mold us into the gifts that God created us in love to be. No one else - not our parents, godparents, siblings, friends, priests, teachers, fellow parishioners - can give that yes to God for us. We ourselves must give it, just as Mary - and no one else - could give her fiat to the Lord for her special calling.
And yet, Mary would never have been able to have given her yes to the Lord if she had not received before hand - and known she could have counted on later - all the support of those around her, including most of all her parents, Joachim and Ann, and her faithful husband-to-be, Joseph. Their witness, prayers, teachings, encouragement, and love were all essential in Mary being able to accept and live out the gift of her vocation from God. And so in a very real way, we can say that it took a community of faith to raise the Blessed Mother.
The same is true for all of us when it comes to accepting and living out our vocations, whatever they may be. It takes the Church to raise a vocation, because even though we must each give our own personal, individual yes, we can only do so when we have been blessed by the witness, prayers, teachings, encouragement, and love of the Church around us.
I know that is true of my own vocation. I know that I would not be living my life's dream as a Holy Cross religious and priest if it were not for all those who helped raise up my vocation. Certainly, my family and especially my parents, Joan and George, stand at the front of that pack, but they certainly were not alone. Countless people come to mind from the faithful parishioners at St. Casimir Parish in Leavenworth to the humble Holy Cross brother who ran the orphanage in Chile to my friends in Campus Ministry at Notre Dame to even my Baptist roommate in college. And the list could go on and on and on. It took the Church to raise my vocation.
I know that it is true also of the vocations of many, if not all of the 50 young men we currently have in formation in the United States Province of Holy Cross. That is probably why one of the main pieces of advice our seminarians give to those discerning a vocation is to start talking to others about it. They know from the own personal, individual experience that they needed the rest of the Church to get them to the points they are at today in their vocations.
And so, in celebrating this Vocations Awareness Week, I encourage all young people who honestly want to discern God's call in their lives to be aware that you need the support of the Church to do so. Do not try it alone, because you can't. Reach out to others of faith around you, including faithful married couples, joyful priests, and engaging religious sisters and brothers. Seek their advice, their counsel, their support, their prayers.
And to the rest of the Church, I encourage you to be ready and willing to be aware of the need that young people in the Church around you have of you to be a part of the supporting cast in their vocations. Be ready and willing to witness to them in your own vocation. Be ready and willing to pray for them. Be ready and willing to offer them words of encouragement. Be ready and willing even to suggest to them in love, if the Spirit moves you, that God might be calling them to be a priest, a brother, or a sister.
After all, there is no vocation stork that delivers vocations to the Church. It takes the Church - the whole Church - to raise vocations.
Fr. Andrew Gawrych, C.S.C., is the Associate Director of the Office of Vocations for the United States Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross. He writes periodically for the Spes Unica Blog on issues of vocation and discernment. Contact the Office of Vocations to learn more about discerning a religious life with the Congregation of Holy Cross.