Sixth-graders learn about creating a good vocation environment


CLICK HERE  to see a gallery of photos from this event. 

Not everyone in the Church has the same calling from God, but all are called to participate in the great work of creation and redemption.

And no one can do it alone.

“Rather, we are all called to support one another in what God wants to do through us,” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight pointed out at this year’s Sixth Grade Vocations Day.

About 565 sixth-graders from Catholic schools and parishes throughout the Jefferson City diocese attended the event, sponsored by the diocesan Vocations Office and held on May 1 at Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School in Columbia.

Approximately 150 adults — including chaperones, presenters, volunteers and the entire Our Lady of Lourdes School faculty and staff — were also present.

Participants wore matching T-shirts emblazoned with the day’s theme: “Called to Sainthood” on the front and “Be not afraid!” on the back.

The sixth-graders learned about Marriage, Priesthood and Consecrated Religious Life and every Christian’s call to pursue holiness.

“It’s very important that we understand that in order to respond to the call of God in your life, you first have to be able to hear it,” said Bishop McKnight.

“You have to know what God is calling you to — and that takes discernment, that takes time,” he stated. “Then, once you hear the call of God, you have to respond.”

Both of those tasks require a proper environment and support of the entire Church, he said.

“Walk in his love”

The sixth-graders gathered for community-building and instructions, attended Mass together with Bishop McKnight, then took part in several impact sessions of their choosing, each highlighting a vocation in a particular way.

The event also included lunch, games and Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Married couples, religious sisters, a Benedictine monk and several priests and seminarians answered questions and talked about what their vocation means to them.

Sister M. Karolyn Nunes of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George (FSGM) talked about letting go and putting God in charge.

“Vocation is simply a path to holiness that flows from relationship with the Father,” she stated. “When we walk in his love, we can’t go wrong and we have nothing to fear.”

 When asked about her hobbies, Sr. Karolyn mentioned that she plays the harmonica and showed the students the one she had in the pocket of her habit.

“Can you play it now?” several sixth-graders fired back.

She happily obliged, giving an impromptu rendition of “Immaculate Mary” and “Come, Holy Ghost.”

“Like a GPS”

In an impact session on Priesthood, Father Stephen Jones, pastor of Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish in Jefferson City and rector of the Cathedral, talked about why vocations are relevant and important.

“As members of the Church, you are part of something bigger than yourselves,” he told the sixth-graders.

“You are part of God’s eternal plan, and he calls each of us — in particular ways — to certain vocations in order to serve him and enliven the Church,” said Fr. Jones.

At a session on Christian Marriage, Jose Maria Gonzalez asked sixth-graders: “What do you think would happen if we say no to God? What would happen if God had a plan for us and, for whatever reason, we didn’t follow it?”

One girl said: “I think that because God loves so much, with infinite patience, he would just re-route us. You know? Like a GPS. You miss the right exit, and you don’t get a negative message telling you how bad of a driver you are; you just get re-routed in the best way possible.”

“That was the best answer to that question that I’ve ever heard!” said Mr. Gonzalez, director of faith formation at Sacred Heart School in Sedalia.

He pointed out that God never gets tired of forgiving people and welcoming them back into a right relationship with himself.

Rather, it’s people who get tired of asking for forgiveness.

“We would rather be perfect and self-sufficient,” said Mr. Gonzalez.

Nonetheless, God is always ready to show more patience and love than anyone else can fathom.

Mr. Gonzalez emphasized that Christian Marriage is a vocation — in itself a calling from God.

“God specifically calls people to marriage, which means that he prepared that vocation for us even before we existed, and he gives us all the tools we need to succeed,” said Mr. Gonzalez.

Husband and wife become one flesh, and that unity is both a blessing and a challenge.

Mr. Gonzalez talked about the importance of talking, listening, being honest, and praying together as ways for a husband and wife to build an enduring marriage. 

“The right fit”

Sister Mary Ruth Wand, SSND — who has been a School Sister of Notre Dame for over 60 years and who visits people who are hospitalized, homebound or living in nursing homes in Sedalia — said the participants at Sixth Grade Vocations Day were attentive, respectful and enjoyable to be with.

“Hopefully, they went home with a deeper love of God, deciding to live in the joy of find joy of finding the right fit of living that holy love in their future life decisions,” she said.

Sr. Mary Ruth is convinced that God spoke to everyone at the event in some personal way.

The sixth-graders heard repeatedly that finding their vocation is an ongoing process of discernment to know God’s will.

“We pray that at home, in the classroom, and all of daily living, there will be an environment conducive to faith growth and appreciation of discernment for calls to religious and priestly life,” said Sr. Mary Ruth.

Benedictine Brother Placid Dale, a member of the Benedictine community at Conception Abby in northwestern Missouri, spoke of living under a monastic rule.

He reiterated that every Christian’s first vocation is to help Jesus draw people to himself.

“We’re all called to be saints,” Brother Placid noted. “We become saints by listening to God and by journeying toward God in this life.”

How does someone figure out his or her specific vocation?

“You start by praying and listening to God,” the brother stated. “You have to ask God, ‘What is it that you’re calling me to be?’”

He acknowledged that God’s answer can be jarring at first.

“But God knows your heart even better than you do,” the brother said. “He tells us not to be afraid, but just to listen, and he will bring you great happiness.”

“Our job”

This year, Sixth Grade Vocation Day took place on the memorial feastday of St. Joseph the Worker, honoring Jesus’s foster father in his role as provider and protector of the Holy Family.

At a Mass concelebrated with priests of the diocese, Bishop McKnight emphasized that Sixth Grade Vocation Day is about more than helping individual sixth-graders be open to the calling God has for them.

“More important, I would say, is your significant role in helping create a culture of vocations within your school, within your parishes, within our diocesan Church,” the bishop stated.

He spoke of how St. Joseph helped the Blessed Mother raise Jesus and provide an ideal oasis for him to grow in understanding of his vocation as the Son of God and the Savior of the World.

Not everyone in Jesus’s hometown were as helpful — with some taking offense at the great things he was saying and doing in their presence.

“I suppose some of them probably felt a little jealous of him, maybe a little envious, and they didn’t help make a good environment to support Our Lord’s vocation as God intended,” said Bishop McKnight.

The bishop said discerning and following one’s own unique call from God is much easier in such a supportive environment.

“Sometimes, unfortunately, there just isn’t such a positive environment in the home,” the bishop noted. “And that’s a great difficulty for young people who hear the call of God and want to respond but are defeated in one way or another.”

Therefore, it’s important for other people — including friends and peers — to help young people recognize their unique gifts and talents that suggest a particular vocation in the Church.

“Maybe, that means getting over some jealousy ourselves because we might see some qualities in them that would make them a good priest, a good religious sister ... or maybe a very faithful Catholic in the world today,” said Bishop McKnight.

He cautioned that encouragement is helpful but presumption is not.

“We don’t need to be telling everybody what their vocation is. That’s God’s job,” said the bishop. “But it’s OUR job to support them in their discernment.”

A word to parents

Sr. Karolyn said if she could reinforce anything to the sixth-graders’ parents, it would be that holiness and happiness are intimately related.

“The vocation that your child is called to becomes a source of life — even if it’s different from the vocation that you are called to,” she said she’d tell parents.

Mr. Gonzalez emphasized the importance of family life and of parents spending significant time with their children.

“If you don’t spend quality time together, you will miss the opportunity to grow together, to talk about life, to share values and to be a role model,” he said.

He observed that that time passes extremely quickly.

“If adults don’t slow down to really ‘live’ their kids — as opposed to ‘live with’ their kids — there’ll come a time when they will ask themselves what went wrong or why their kids do this or that,” he stated.

In that sense, phones can become a very strong enemy to family life, “and we adults cannot ask our kids to leave their phones aside if we don’t do it first,” he said.

Sr. Mary Ruth prayed that everyone at Sixth Grade Vocations Day, especially the students, “would remain open, with listening ears and hearts.”