Promoting Vocations Today Demands the “Explorer Spirit” of Ignatius
Rev. Drew Kirschman, S.J., Coordinator for Vocation Promotion, USA Central & Southern Province of the Society of Jesus
What inspired you to choose your current commitments and career? Can you name the various ways that you were led down your current path? These can be complicated questions, maybe now more than ever. My hunch is we all recognize that there are a variety of experiences and many people who shaped (and continue to shape) our worldview in considering how we might give of our lives. Whether you find your call in administration or advising, teaching or coaching, offering behind-the-scenes support or leading out front, God’s ongoing revelations are active and alive. Growing in our awareness and seeking intentional ways to respond to this dynamic call is our challenge.
St. Ignatius of Loyola identified vocation promotion as a central part of the Society’s mission. While its importance is partially rooted in his desire that this “least Society” continue well into the future, Ignatius placed vocation promotion as a key element in his vision for the world. If God is laboring with us, and we are called to find God in all things, then the heart of our mission is to help others (and ourselves) hear and courageously respond to God’s call. An Ignatian vision for the world is one of finding freedom to respond generously to Jesus’ call. An Ignatian vision for our colleges and universities is about empowering this freedom.
There is a seismic shift in the way we understand vocation work today. The models of the past were based on good witnesses present at our institutions in order to inspire others to follow. While this continues to be an important part of promotion today, the passive nature of waiting for young people to act on their own accord in following those who model Jesuit life seems less and less effective. Promotion work today demands a more active model where we are all promoters of the Jesuit mission. All of us are invited to actively seek out students and colleagues who demonstrate the capacity and desire to live the unique charism to follow Ignatius as Jesuits. Ongoing discernment is needed to identify those who are called to be Jesuits. We must also look for ways to support, both personally and institutionally, those discerning a vocation. It takes courage on our part to actively invite others to consider a vocation. This is not simply the responsibility of those with “SJ” behind their name; all must be active members in encouraging and promoting this invitation.
What do Clash of Clans, #BlackLivesMatter and binge watching of Mad Men, Game of Thrones and Orange is the New Black have to do with vocation work? Since our founding, the Society of Jesus has labored in and with culture to identify Jesus’ call. So too for today! The location of imagination is where vocation work begins. Too often we wait for young people to come to us. Are we willing to invite others to consider religious life? Can we look in the contours of today’s culture as a way to creatively broaden young people’s imagination on what their lives can be about? It feels counter cultural (and super awkward) to ask a freshman in biochemistry if they might be called to be a Jesuit, and yet what is there to lose by NOT asking? You might be amazed at the conversations sparked by inviting young people to think about their lives in radical ways.
Creating a vocation culture is rooted in generosity and gratitude. As co-laborers at Jesuit colleges and universities, it is our job to offer tangible witness to these virtues. How do you concretely witness generosity to your students and colleagues? Now is the time to be explicit and intentional in our witness. As the coordinator for vocation promotion for the USA Central and Southern Province, I find incredible generosity and gratitude present in our institutions. The fruit of this can be seen in the number of graduates who go on to do service programs like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and the Alumni Service Corps. Teachers, administrators, coaches and campus ministers are asking the questions and inviting young people to go out into the world as servants with and for others. Can we ask the vocation question and invite these same young people to consider a call to religious life?
How to begin this kind of conversation feels daunting. Let young people see you living your vocation with joy! Be willing to share your vocation story. How did you discern to work in a Jesuit institution, to labor with the Society of Jesus? When we live our vocations with joy (no matter what that vocation may be), it is contagious. Sharing our stories of discernment and courage in following Jesus’ call helps to create spaces where young people are not afraid to explore their own vocations with courage.
Too often we use the image of pilgrim when we talk about walking in the footsteps of Ignatius. Maybe for vocation work – creating a space to help young people courageously follow where Jesus is inviting them to go – we might use the image of the explorer. Ignatius sent his companions out to the far reaches of the world to share the Good News. As we seek to accompany people in their own discovering of Jesus’ call in their lives, let us be explorers who creatively invite others to follow the call of Jesus that roams in our culture, in our relationships, in our hearts.
Above: Graphic design work done by Rev. Tucker Redding, S.J.