Why not trust the Divine Farmer to tell the good soil from the bad?
Recently, my parish hosted a vocations night, with the archdiocesan vocation director and a group of men and women religious talking to our religion students, their parents, and a few other random parishioners who dropped in. Afterwards, we all shared a meal. The kids had a chance to talk to the guests and ask questions without being put on the spot. We’re hoping to plant the seeds of future vocations, remind everyone to pray for vocations, and start a renewal of Catholic life in our area.
Pretty big goals, I know. So, did it work? I have no idea. We enjoyed each other’s company. The bigger kids came away with a sense of the variety of charisms in the church and realized that there’s no one type of person called to religious life. The little kids got the idea that “God calls you to something that will make you happy.” But, really, it could be decades before we see if this seeding bears any fruit, and that’s all right. At least we’ve sown and we’ve done it with an eye toward scripture.
You know the parable — some seeds fall on rocky soil, some on the path, and some on good soil. Jesus explains that the seeds are the Word of God, and the soils are the different people who hear it. But as we were planning the vocation night, we had an insight: The sower isn’t behaving like a normal farmer, who would gauge where the good soil is, and seed there exclusively. Because why waste seed?
The sower in the story does none of that. He has an abundance of seed — infinite seeds — and so he can afford to throw the seeds about widely, with an optimism that could only be described as reckless abandon, were it not rooted in love, which changes everything. Suddenly what seems “wasteful” is simply ensuring that every possibility is covered.
When I was young, no one talked to us about vocations to the priesthood or religious life, or even to marriage, unless they’d already gauged us as “good” soil. It was almost as if we were a church in triage. If you were a good kid at a Catholic school, someone might have said something. If, however, you were one of those CCD kids whose parents didn’t love you enough to send them to Catholic school, who, hypothetically, might have been the type of kid to convince her 10th-grade CCD teacher to show Life of Brian in class because it was another “biblical epic,” well, you weren’t the sort of kid to waste the effort on. You were clearly rocky ground and probably going to grow up to be a pagan. (In my defense, he’d just shown us Jesus Christ Superstar, and Life of Brian actually has more solid theology.)
The thing is, many of the “good soil” kids grew up to leave the Church. And a few of us “rocky” types ended up being crazy homeschooling catechist mothers of seven. It just goes to show that your average adult in the parish probably isn’t great at telling one sort of soil from the other. And Jesus gave us a lot of seed, so we should probably spread it as widely as possible, like the farmer in his parable.
We’ve been suffering from a vocations drought in the Catholic Church in America for a long time. I’m beginning to think that part of it might be because we gave up on too many people because we trusted ourselves to be able to tell the good soil from the bad, when in truth only the Divine Farmer can do that. When the good soil didn’t yield fruit, we blamed the seeds.
So, go out! Scatter seeds. Host a Vocation Night, even if you’re not sure the kids and their parents will be interested. Maybe just host a gathering without warning them that nuns and seminarians will be there, and let the seeds go where they may.
None of the kids may be called to the priesthood or religious life, but perhaps one day they’ll be a meaningful support to a friend who is quietly discerning. They may end up encouraging a student in one of their classes, or helping one of their own children answer God’s call.
Take a chance, try something new, and invite some speakers, or even just some roving religious guests. You may be pleasantly surprised.