Renewing vocations begins in family

The following are excerpts from an address delivered by Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., at the "Faith and Family" conference, April 29, in Melbourne, Australia.

By Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

We don't have a "vocations crisis." We have a hearing problem. God's calling plenty of young men to the priesthood and plenty of young women to religious life. But they don't answer because they can't hear . . . or they're afraid . . . or they don't recognize God's voice. And that's because all of us, in a way, have forgotten our primary vocation to be missionaries, beginning within the family itself.

Augustine has a great line somewhere in The Confessions, I think, where he prays, "Oh God, deliver me from my sin _ but not today." And it reminds me of our own prayers for vocations. For 30 years in the United States we've been loudly begging the Lord to send us more priests. But what that usually means is, "Lord, send us more priests -- from somebody else's family."

Mission of the family
Now obviously, God created families to be much more than "priest factories." Families have the much larger mission of being a leaven of the Gospel in the wider world. In fact, we are all called to be missionaries. There are no exceptions. Evangelizing isn't something we can just delegate away to priests and nuns. It doesn't work like that.

Married life and parenting are missionary vocations. We find the proof of that both in Scripture, and in the teaching of the Church. I want to encourage you to pick up your bibles and read the passages for Easter Saturday: The First Reading is from the Acts of the Apostles, chapter four, verses 13-21. The Responsorial Psalm is from Psalm 118. And the Gospel is from Mark, chapter 16, verses 9-15.

Consider this from the First Reading: "The priests and elders were amazed as they observed the self-assurance of Peter and John, and realized that the speakers were uneducated men of no standing [emphasis added]. Then they recognized these men as having been with Jesus." And a few lines later, Peter and John say, "Surely we cannot help speaking of what we have heard and seen."

And this from Psalm 118: "My strength and my courage is the Lord . . . I shall not die but live, and declare the works of the Lord" [emphasis added].

And finally from Mark's Gospel: Jesus appears to the Eleven and tells them to, "Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to all creation." Notice that Jesus didn't say, " . . . proclaim the good news to all creation . . . unless you have children, or unless you have a stressful job, or unless you and your spouse are really busy." Notice that you don't need a theology degree, either. It can help, but it isn't necessary.

Qualifications for discipleship
Peter and John were "uneducated men of no standing," but they were bursting with the self-assurance and joy of faith: "Surely we cannot help speaking of what we have heard and seen." Which echoes the zeal of the Psalmist: "I shall not die but live, and declare the works of the Lord." Faith demands to be shared, or it dies. That's what St. Paul meant when he wrote, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel." It's not that God will punish him if he doesn't talk about Jesus Christ. It's that he cannot be happy unless he shares Jesus with others. That's the mark of an apostle, and that's what each of us is called to.

The Second Vatican Council says the same thing in Ad Gentes, its Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity. The Council Fathers write that " . . . the obligation of spreading the faith falls individually on every disciple of Christ . . . " (23), and ". . . the whole Church is missionary, and the work of evangelization [is] the fundamental task of the people of God . . . " (35). And finally, " . . . all the faithful have an obligation to collaborate in the expansion and spread of [Christ's] body . . ." (36).

Peter and John were "uneducated men of no standing" when they began their ministry. but they didn't stay that way. They matured into serious leaders — and so must you. Your faith should be cultivated and deepened throughout your lives. That's part of our duty as adult Catholics ... we should never stop learning about our faith.