“I wanted to become a priest. But I don’t know how to become one” a 12-year-old boy once shared this sentiment. He had been a member of the Knights of the Altar and pointed out that a Salesian brother who heads the group made him seriously think about it.
Many young people are mulling over what they want to do with their lives, among these, the option to become a priest, a brother, or a sister. Russell Shaw, a Washington correspondent for Our Sunday Visitor newspaper, does not believe that there is a shortage of vocations in the Catholic Church. “What we’re seeing is a shortage of vocational discernment. Discernment—not recruitment—should be central to vocations efforts today.”
However, in a world which offers so many options for the young people, this is not an easy task. Young people tend to go for options which have, as it were, the ‘loudest screams.’
The Rector Major, through his strenna this year, calls for us not just to promote the vocation to the religious life, but more so, become real spiritual guides to our many young people who have the desire to lead a consecrated life.
Just recently, I attended the first Mass celebrated by a newly ordained priest from another congregation. In his gratitude speech, he revealed that the very person who invited him to try the seminary was a high school teacher who was also the adviser of his youth group. I found out that teacher did not just merely pop out the ‘religious life’ option to him. She became his spiritual guide as well.
A spiritual guide, also called spiritual director, helps the directee to pay attention to God’s personal message to him and be able to respond adequately; in other words, he assists his directee to grow in intimacy with God. William Barry, a renowned Jesuit author, emphasized that “People do not become spiritual directors because of ordination or through any office in the church.” Being a spiritual director is more of a charism or a gift which attracts would-be directees towards him.
In a typical Salesian setting, the task of spiritual guidance is ordinarily given to the catechists (or spiritual moderators). However, it is important to note that he is not the only one who should carry this out. All of us who form the Educative Pastoral Community (EPC)—be it consecrated Salesians (SDBs or FMAs) or lay teachers—are given the share to take part in this mission of spiritually accompanying our young people.
In his strenna, Fr. Chavez urgently called for us to create and develop a vocational culture “which not only concerns itself with looking for candidates to religious or priestly life.” This culture, instead, “creates the suitable conditions so that every young person may discover, take up and follow their own vocation.”
Highlighting its importance in the realm of the Salesian educational system, he clarified that ‘accompaniment’ does not only refer to the interpersonal dialogue taking place between the spiritual director and his directee, but to a “whole variety of personal relationships” that will aid the young person in his discernment process.
He underscored here the important role of the Salesian community which ensures that there is an environment that fosters both “personal approach and vocational development.” By way of example, he concretely enumerated the following practices a Salesian community could offer the young:
- Willingness to get to know the young and share our life with them;
- Encourage youth groups;
- Brief, occasional contacts that show an interest in the young people and their world;
- Moments of short, yet frequent, personal conversation;
- Witnessing through a life of prayer, of community life, and of mission;
- Frequent offer of the sacrament of reconciliation
The life of Dominic Savio makes us see the importance of having a spiritual guide. By and large, his life had really been a beautiful work of the Father. He had already lived a devout life even before encountering Don Bosco, his would-be spiritual guide. But we know also that he was not yet a finished product; he was still a work in progress. Realizing this, he himself humbly obeyed the biddings of Don Bosco. And the rest is history, so to say.
Don Bosco himself sought the guidance of devout priests to help him in his vocation, Fr. Joseph Calosso, whom he met when he was just 15 years old and Don Joseph Cafasso, who would eventually become a saint as well.
Indeed, as Fr. Chavez observes, “At the side of every saint there is a spiritual director who accompanies and guides him.”
Taking this cue from the rector major, we challenge each of us belonging in our Salesian family, particularly the Salesians, to be in the midst of the young people.
Yes, spiritual directors accompany the young in their journey. But before we actually take this spiritual journey with them, we have to be present with them physically.
This article was published in the Salesian Bulletin Philippines, Vol 41, No. 3 December 2011-February 2012. This publication is now known as St. John Bosco Today.