The Heart of Every Vocation by Fr Shane Sullivan
A priest died recently in the United States. His name was Fr. Baer and no one- save my own dad- had as profound an influence on shaping me into the man I am as he did.
He was the rector of St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul, where I studied from 2004-08. I entered seminary right out of secondary school, and anyone could be forgiven for writing me off completely. I was a lazy, self-centred and immature boy. But Fr. Baer saw more in me and dedicated himself to make not only me but hundreds of young men (I estimate around 600) into the sort of men God made us to be- the kind of men the Church very much needs now.
He shaped many of us profoundly. There are few areas of my personality or life God didn’t partially shape through him. My priorities and goals, my perspective and what I value, my sense of self and identity- all those were significantly moulded by Fr. Baer. There are only two words which capture a figure who dedicates themselves to you like that, and makes so profound an impact on you; those words are father and mother. And the only place where that happens is a family.
Fathers and Mothers
This was central to our formation at St. John Vianney. Every man is called (regardless of his particular vocation) to be a father. God may invite him to marry, and have children, and to be a father to his family, or he may invite him to lay down his life for the family of God, the Church. The undeniable fact is that each man is called to fatherhood. Fr Baer taught us, and showed by example, what that means: a father provides, protects and establishes. This three-fold mission of every man was repeated so often we internalised it. It is written on our very hearts.
The same is true for every woman. God has made her to be a mother. It may manifest itself differently depending on her particular vocation and life-circumstances, but I contend that motherhood is the foundation of every woman’s call. Someone who better understands the femine genius can change or adapt the following description, but may I suggest that central to motherhood is communion, nurturing and defending?
Here we listen again to God’s call, written into our very natures as men and women. Become the father you were made to be! Become the mother you were made to be! Build families that are places where God’s children grow to Christian maturity!
Challenges and Necessities
Here’s the difficulty: most millennials (the current generation) have never had and will never have anyone who shapes them so profoundly, someone who could truly be called a spiritual father or mother. An insightful friend told me recently that we are a generation of spiritual orphans. This certainly sheds some light on the problems millennials typically face: an insecure sense of self, a partially-formed Christian character and struggles with worldliness, an inability to commit and restlessness.
Now for the good news. Even though someone might never have had the intentional and skilled Catholic formation of a spiritual father or mother, they can still become one themselves. I return to the example of my spiritual father, Fr. Baer. He grew up in the 1960’s era of post-Vatican II confusion, hippies and Jesus-freaks. He had no spiritual father or mother and yet he became one who fathered hundreds of men in seminary and thousands in his parish. How did he become capable of fatherhood when no one was there to show him the way? He sought out formation and found it- from Christ Himself. He had to dedicate Himself to studying the scriptures intensely to make up for what he lacked. If we are to be fathers and mothers to those God has entrusted to us, to shape them in the image of Christ, we will have to be shaped by Him ourselves.
We have the opportunity to do some good in many people’s lives, and the chance to make a profound impact in the lives of those God makes us responsible for. Fatherhood and motherhood are written into our very nature as men and women. They underpin every vocation and are indispensable to the cause of Christ today and the Church. To the young Catholics who want to discover their call and to make the most substantial mark on the world I say: Be fathers! Be mothers! And build families!