For our life on earth reaches full stature when it becomes an offering… It follows that every form of pastoral activity, formation and spirituality should be seen in the light of our Christian vocation. (Christ is Alive!, paragraph 254)In the last blog, Let them Lead Everywhere, I wrote that Pope Francis’ call to ministry leaders was to let young people lead in all the different places where young people are living their lives, not simply within the bounds of the ministries we have created. For my final post on Christ is Alive!, I am highlighting Pope Francis’ invitation to let young people lead because they are called by God.
If it’s the end of the school year, you can count on young people being asked vocational questions. The standard would be to graduating seniors as everyone wants to know what they will be doing next year. After 14 years of compulsory school, youth are free to choose what comes next. The decisions they make offer a real insight into how they conceive of their own calling and whether or not God has a place in that. Will they go to college? For two or four years? Will they go to trade school? Will they go right to work? Are they taking a “gap” year or doing a year of service somewhere?
This question isn’t a surprise since young people have been answering it ever since they were 5, and their kindergarten teacher had them draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up. The real surprise is that after all of this time, those of faith who have relationships with young people haven’t forced the next question, which is: “What is God calling you to do with your life?” If we don’t ask that question, they assume God is outside of this most central part of their life. And it may take years before they reconcile what they’ve said yes to along the way and what God is actually calling them to do.
I had a phone call last week with a recent college graduate who has decided she wants to work in ministry although she just invested four years studying psychology. I had lunch this week with a friend who is fulfilling her calling as a high school campus minister but admits she spent her college years studying art and philosophy. She wonders whether her love for art fits in with her current work. And next week, I’m meeting with someone who is starting as a church youth minister after spending 30 years as an engineer. Despite their different ages, all three are asking themselves the same set of questions, vocational questions, questions about their gifts and God’s call.
That’s the other thing about vocation. It’s a constant question, or more accurately, a set of questions:
What am I good at? What do I like? What does the world need? What are my responsibilities? How does being a disciple of Jesus Christ change any of the questions I just asked? How do I hear a call from God? If I make a wrong choice, will God not bless me? Does God only have one specific path for me?What I hear Christ is Alive! saying is that for too long those of us who love young people and who want to see Christ at the center of their lives have left them to figure out their calling with only the culture to guide them—a culture where success is measured in popularity, influence, money and attention. And that sounds more like an invitation from the rich young man mentioned in the Gospels than an invitation from the Lord of “sell everything you own and follow me.” Finding their calling with only the culture to guide them is really far from a community that considers itself “collectively responsible for accepting, motivating, encouraging and challenging” young people in their vocation (Christ is Alive!, paragraph 243).
I’d suggest these words push us as leaders of young people to ask ourselves tough questions about calling:
How do we practice discernment in our own lives? Do we ask our young people questions about how they make decisions? Are we helping young people to identify their gifts and live those out? How do we help parents to see this decision through the eyes of faith?