Pointers and Pitfalls in Vocation Promotion

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Pointers and Pitfalls in Vocation Promotion
Rev. Quentin Dupont, S.J., Professor, Seattle University

I have told my vocation story many times and as a result, I have come to understand a different kind of “vocation promotion” in my interactions with students at my Jesuit university.

In light of these experiences and of the almost 15 years since I started inquiring about life in the Society of Jesus, I propose a three-point method toward deepening Jesuit vocations in our institutions. Each part is essential and allows us to identify some common “traps” that get in the way of effective promotion of vocations to the Society.

Promoting Presence

Every Jesuit who talks about their vocation tells the story of a person who they encountered and who eventually led them to the Society. I hear the same from every person considering entering the Jesuits. The story of being called a “Companion of Christ” starts with an encounter with someone who knows the Jesuit charism. Jesuits are not the only ones who offer this presence on campus: so do faculty and staff at our institutions — Catholic or not. As a senior at Santa Clara University, I once saw a brochure quoting a professor of mine (who is Jewish) saying how much he found himself in agreement with the Jesuit values of the university. This allowed me to understand that the Jesuit vocation was about sharing a treasure with the world rather than being part of an exclusive group. Presence draws us to encounter and search for meaning in and of our own lives.

Many of my lay colleagues promote their appreciation for the Ignatian charism. I hope that the next step is to see that everyone on campus (not only the Jesuit community) is a promoter of the Jesuit vocation. Any professor and any staff member should get used to the idea of asking someone: “Have you ever thought of being a Jesuit?”

Only by being truly present to those with whom we teach and work can we allow ourselves to consider asking this question. This sense of presence, in Jesuit speak, is called “cura personalis,” meaning care for the person. We have to care for the people on our campuses - care for their competence as professionals but also care for their well-being and development as persons. This care demands our availability on three fronts: Our time, our compassion and our active participation in the values of Jesuit education.

In offering presence, authenticity and apostolic focus as the lenses of vocation promotion, we are indeed called to share a treasure with those around us. This also requires us to practice interior freedom, discernment and an understanding of God’s greater glory in our own lives. 

Promoting Authenticity

We often describe a vocation as “where one’s deepest desires meet the world’s greatest needs.” Indeed, for Ignatius, discernment of any kind starts with uncovering one’s deepest desires. In other words, vocation promotion demands that we help people find authenticity in their lives.

The need to promote authenticity points to two all-too-common mistakes:

Mistake 1: Separating Jesuit vocation promotion from vocation promotion in general. Our task is vocation promotion, not identifying “baby Jesuits.” Offering vocation promotion as people-centered and authenticity-driven allows us to put forth a first principle of discernment: interior freedom. When I was a candidate, hearing Jesuits tell me that my discernment was about happiness in the life-choice I would make allowed me to open myself to the authenticity of life God was calling me to (and not “I have to do X.”). To promote vocations, we must first promote interior freedom toward a life lived in authenticity.

Mistake 2: Thinking that vocation promotion applies only to students. Jesuits or lay people involved in vocation promotion tend to think of our “target population” as the student body. But universities are much broader than this. Institutions’ faculty and staff include people who may be interested in exploring the question of their vocation, people who have not yet made a vocational commitment in their lives; just because someone has a job does not necessarily mean that one has yet found one’s deepest desires concretely expressed in a life-choice. Vocation promotion should be for all groups on and around campus, not only students.

Promoting Apostolic Focus

Jesuit life is turned toward “the apostolate”: Jesuits are working “in the world.” “Apostolic” comes from “apostle,” meaning “one who is sent.” A Jesuit’s job is always a “mission,” something one is sent to. If we are to promote vocations, including the Jesuit vocation, across campus, what are we inviting people to be sent to do? What context do those missions arise from, what challenges lay ahead, what fears must be aired and heard? As promoters of vocations, we have to grow at ease with the sense of context and purpose, not a precise “this, there” definition of job description and place. Rather, we invite people to something broader, deeper and at the same time more malleable and personal: “Who is God calling you to be?”

The life-long fulfillment of one’s vocation was, for Ignatius, guided by a simple principle: “The more universal the good, the greater.” Our apostolic focus must be on “being sent” in the wider sense of the term. The apostolate is no more Santa Clara or Fordham or Boston College or Seattle University, than it is “promoting a faith that does justice.”

That is often the step where most of us trip up: we mistake “apostolate” for “the institution to which I belong.” Unless we can understand that the apostolic focus of the Society is “For the Greater Glory of God” rather than “For the Greater Glory of My University,” we cannot truly promote vocations that are rooted in being sent, in discerning freely, in an open-ended opportunity to see what one never dreamed of become a life-giving reality. 

For this is what we truly mean by “vocation promotion”: to promote life-giving opportunities of fulfillment for all those we encounter.

Above: Rev. Quentin Dupont, S.J. is a Jesuit currently teaching finance at Seattle University. He studied at Santa Clara University as an undergraduate and later Fordham University and Boston College as part of his Jesuit training. Click here to read his vocation story.