Session 17: The Christian Vocations

Resources for participants

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

17A

  • Have you ever felt called or inspired to do something?
  • What vocation do you find most inspiring and why? Can you think of some Christian saints and what vocations they each followed?
  • How did you discover your own vocation or way of life? What “signs” spoke to you along the way? Where did you look for guidance? Or what are you looking for now?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

17B

  • What things help to make a good marriage and a happy family?
  • Can you think of any couples who have been a good example of marriage for you and why?
  • What are the most important values for family life? What can make family life difficult? What can help families rediscover healing and peace again?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

17C

  • Do you know any priests or religious brothers, sisters, monks, nuns, etc?
  • What do you know about their way of life, their work, their prayer?
  • What gifts do you think they can bring to the Church and to society?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

 

READINGS FROM THE YOUCAT FOR THIS SESSION

If you are using the YouCat with your Sycamore group, please click here for general advice about the YouCat and how to use the readings. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

PLEASE NOTE: The readings for this session are longer than usual. If possible it would be better to split this reading over two weeks – Part A and Part B – so you can give proper time to each topic. Please find out from your leader or catechist whether they have been able to add in an extra week for this, and what the plan is for your group.

PART A:

  • #145 – consecrated life [1 page]
  • #248 to #259 – the Sacrament of Ordination [6 pages]
  • #260 to #271 – the Sacrament of Marriage [7 pages]

PART B:

  • #400 to #425 – love, sexuality, chastity, and the gift of children [14 pages]

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the YouCat and not to page numbers. The number in [square brackets] at the end tells you roughly how long this passage is in terms of the pages you need to read (excluding picture pages).

 

LONGER READINGS FROM THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

If you have more time, and if you want to go deeper into the topic of this session, you can follow up by exploring the longer Catechism of the Catholic Church. See the standard online version here, and a digital “flip-book” edition here. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the Catechism and not to page numbers. Click on the links themselves to read the paragraphs in the online version.

 

KEY IDEAS FROM THE FILM

17A – The meaning of vocation

The word “vocation” simply means a calling. There is a pull, or sometimes a sense of being pushed. Something in you knows that this is the right way forward. It might be your heart, or your conscience, or a sense of duty, or even of destiny.

For a Christian, the fundamental vocation is the adventure of following Jesus Christ in faith. It’s a call to grow in love and holiness.

But God calls many people to a special commitment, to a particular way of life. It could be marriage; or ordination – as a deacon, priest or bishop; or religious life in a monastery or convent; or another form of consecration; or a commitment to the single life.

But how do we know what to do? What are the signs? Well, the normal way that God speaks to us is through the deepest desires of our hearts. The simplest sign of a vocation is attraction. It’s a bit like falling in love. You feel an attraction, a pull, to marriage or to priesthood or whatever.

God can speak to us in different ways: when we pray, when we read the bible, when we talk to people, when something unexpected happens. Sometimes we get a feeling that he is saying something to us. It seems like a sign.

It’s can be a deep, dark knowledge that we need to do something; a sense of obligation that we didn’t choose and that we can’t explain. God can take us by surprise. He did this when he appeared to St Paul on the road to Damascus in a blinding flash of light.

Above all, we need to pray for guidance and for a generous heart. And then to be open to God’s will.

If you are single, it doesn’t mean your life is “on hold” until you discover a lifelong vocation. Your life has immense value right now. You are called to holiness – right now. You can trust that in this moment, this is where you are meant to be, and that God has great plans for your future. He has not forgotten you.

17B – Marriage and family life

Let me give you the Christian understanding of marriage. I don’t mean the meaning of marriage just for Christians¸ but marriage as Christians understand it.

Here we go, in one sentence: Marriage is a public commitment, where a man and woman promise to love each other faithfully, for the rest of their lives, and to be open to the gift of children that may come from their sexual union.

Marriage is free: You can’t force someone to get married against their will. There has to be a choice. They have to say Yes.

Marriage is faithful: You give your life to this person, and not someone else.

Marriage is fruitful: It’s open to the gift of children and building a family. Now a couple can never be sure that they will conceive a child, but they can be generous and open to new life in their sexual intimacy.

And marriage is for life: There is a “bond of marriage”. The marriage vows bring about something new. A spiritual bond is established, even if someone has no faith, because God blesses the promises that every married couple makes. That bond can normally only be broken by death.

In this Christian view, marriage is always between a man and a woman. This is not because of any prejudice or discrimination. In the Christian understanding, there is something distinctive and unique about the relationship between and a man and a woman, between male and female, because this male-female complementarity is what allows for the gift of new life. This is an essential part of the meaning of marriage, even if a couple cannot have children.

You don’t need to be a Christian, of course, to get married. But when two Christians do get married this beautiful, natural union is transformed into the sacrament of matrimony.

The Christian husband and wife are called to love each other with the love of Jesus Christ, and to make their home a place of faith. He gives them extra graces to grow in holiness and generosity. This is why marriage is a Christian vocation, because it becomes a way of following Christ – as spouses and as parents.

17C – Ordination and consecrated life

In the bible, St Paul explains how those who choose to stay unmarried have a special gift, because they can focus on the things of God. They can give their undivided attention to the Lord (1 Cor 7:32-35). What we call “consecrated life” is not something that started in the nineteenth century. It goes back to the beginning of Christianity.

There is so much variety. Some communities are enclosed, with a focus on prayer and community. Some communities are more active and engaged with the world: in education, healthcare, social work, parish ministry, missionary work, or service to the poor. Some people are living their consecration in more personal or hidden ways, outside of any community.

Consecrated life involves the “evangelical counsels”: the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. You promise to remain poor, without private possessions; to remain unmarried, in lifelong celibacy; and to be obedient to your superiors, in the service of the gospel.

This is a very special call from God. It gives someone a greater freedom to follow Christ and to be at the service of others, with an undivided heart.

The ministerial priesthood is another form of vocation. Now every Christian has a priestly vocation: to worship God and show the love of Jesus Christ to the world. This is the baptismal priesthood. But through the sacrament of ordination, the ministerial priest can represent Christ as the Head and Shepherd of the Church. He stands “in the person of Jesus Christ”.

Ordination also includes deacons, who assist in the liturgy, and preach and teach, and reach out to serve the community. And it includes bishops, who represent the apostles and receive the fullness of the sacrament.

The priesthood is such a gift. When a priest teaches with the authority of the Church, it is Christ who teaches. When he forgives our sins in the sacrament of confession, it is Christ who forgives. When he celebrates Mass, it is Christ who offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice. When he cares for his people, it is Christ who is reaching out to them.