The vocation to missionary work seems extraordinary to some, but it takes skills similar to any other work in remote areas.
By Christine Mader
Thinking back to the late spring and early summer, high school and university students in many parts of Canada may remember their efforts to find work.
How different does God’s approach to employing human beings appear to be! Our idea of “vocation” has its roots in the belief that God initiates, God “calls.” This “employer” seems to be something of a headhunter, not searching through an impersonal stack of résumés and making of applicants demands impossible to meet, but personally seeking out each and every human being, one by one, and presenting a simple invitation: to participate freely in God’s saving action on behalf of all. The invitation is always open.
Where each of us ends up in life is a combination of many things: Have we natural gifts that lend themselves well to a particular calling? Have we the right intention in pursuing a particular line of work? Have we had the right opportunities in life to pursue a particular vocation? It also depends on whether we have considered all the possibilities.
It is well known that fewer people, especially in the Western World, are entering religious life and the seminary. Fewer laity are pursuing degrees in theology. There are many factors contributing to this: the decline in interest in traditional religious institutions, concerns over living a celibate life, poor job prospects for laity after graduation, among others.
Yet, the need for people to discern and meet the spiritual yearnings of those who live in the remotest areas of Canada remains: people still ask for baptism for their children, they still want to be married in the Church, they still want to be fed by Christ at the table of Word and Sacrament in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass, they still desire the strength of the Holy Spirit, they still want the dignity of the Mass of Christian Burial upon their deaths. In addition, they need the daily signs of love that assure them of their worth before God and give them hope.
Those who ask for these things are Catholic Christians already, proud of and grateful for their Christian communities, and often living in difficult circumstances. Rather than abandon our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in these far-away places in Canada, we support them as much as possible in their journey of faith.
The vocation to missionary work seems extraordinary to some, but it takes skills similar to any other work in remote areas: the ability to be a self-starter, resourceful, able to do without, to love people, to pursue preparation through schooling and other types of formation, and to meet difficulties with courage and creativity.
We can ensure that missionary work remains among the possibilities considered by those looking for ways to spend their lives meaningfully by talking about this option in our families, with our friends and in our community contexts, by recognizing and affirming in those we meet the natural gifts that would support a vocation in the Canadian missions, by helping people develop an attitude of service towards others (essential for the missionary), as well as the concrete opportunities to put that attitude into practice.
Chris Mader is co-founder and co-director of STEP—The Science of Theology Engineered Professionally—a theological consulting company based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.