National Vocation Awareness Week is an annual weeklong celebration of the Catholic Church in the United States dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and consecrated life through prayer and education, and to renewing our prayers and support for those who are considering one of these particular vocations.

   Observance of Vocation Awareness Week began in 1976 when the U.S. bishops designated the 28th Sunday of the year for the celebration. It was moved later to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord in January. Since 2014, it has been observed in November to engage Catholic schools and colleges more effectively in this effort. Last week’s Catholic Sun featured a number of articles on vocation awareness. This week I would like to address the role of the family in promoting and supporting vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and consecrated life.

   In recent years, many have addressed the importance of creating a culture of vocations that promotes and supports our common vocation — the universal call to holiness. Vocation Awareness Week directs our attention to particular paths or “states in life” to which God calls some men and women. Vocations to the priesthood are especially important in order that Mass can be celebrated and the sacraments available to our people. Likewise, men and women called to the consecrated life assist in the charitable, educational, and pastoral needs of the Church. In a variety of ways, they are committed to the Church’s mission. 

   I repeat the conviction expressed in my pastoral letter at the conclusion of the Year of Faith. “I am confident God is calling men and women to the priesthood and the consecrated life. I am asking parents and family members to help create a culture which supports these vocations” (Faith: A Gift Received, A Treasure to be Shared, November 24, 2013).

   Research on the role of the family in nurturing vocations tells us that family members of seminarians, priests, and religious acknowledge that their Catholic faith and prayer are an important part of their daily life. Moreover, family members attest to active involvement in parish life. Many participate also in Eucharistic Adoration and pray the rosary as a family regularly.

   “When it comes to our Catholic faith, the home is the ‘first school of Christian life’ and parents are the ‘first heralds of the faith.’ The family is where we learn ‘endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous — even repeated — forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life’” (Enriching the Church: The Role of the Family in the Life of the Church of Syracuse and Beyond, November 2017).

   How can families build faith and promote vocations? First, families can attend Mass on Sunday. Full and active participation in Sunday Mass is our best teacher in the ways of faith. We listen to the history of the chosen people, become familiar with the stories of Our Lord’s life, are nourished by the worthy reception of His Body and Blood, and receive the strength to walk with the Lord during the coming week. Parents should never underestimate the importance of regular attendance at Sunday Mass. It is, I believe, the first step in creating a culture of vocations.

   In addition to regular attendance at Sunday Mass, I encourage parents to pray with their children. Grace before and after meals and morning and bedtime prayers can be daily opportunities that form a habit of prayer. Moreover, parents should not be shy or reticent about sharing their faith by talking to their children about its importance in their lives. In addition, parents’ active engagement in parish life as lectors, greeters, choir members, or volunteers in service and outreach opportunities models what it means to live and share your faith.

   Finally, parents can encourage their children to consider a religious vocation, to recognize that God has a plan for them, and to listen to the Lord’s still quiet voice that reveals His plan for them. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question we often ask children and young people. Let’s phrase the question differently and ask, “What does God want you to be?” It is a simple change but it acknowledges that God should be part of the conversation when a person is discerning a vocation.

   Happy and holy families are essential in creating a culture that nurtures vocations. The Church of Syracuse and beyond relies on them to awaken in their children the knowledge that they are loved and that they have a sacred purpose. From teaching them their first prayers to introducing them to the art of questioning and listening, they provide their children with the essential skills they need to discern where God is calling them. God bless families! As parents live their noble vocation, may they experience the love and guidance of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

   If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.