//The First Step into the Society: Musings on Vocation Promotion

The First Step into the Society: Musings on Vocation Promotion

Vocation to religious life or priesthood is basically a grace and gift of God. Neither the Church nor the Society of Jesus calls one first to this way of life. It is out and out God who calls and chooses us through the Society. “You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last?” (Jn 15:16). Though it is God who calls us first, yet we are invited and expected to collaborate with God to enable the youth to recognize and accept that call.

Vocation is a divine initiative accepted and acted upon byhuman response. God needs us to continue the mission of Christ in promoting God’s reign of justice, peace, equality, joy and love.

In the words of Pedro Arrupe, “Each one has come to realize that, in responding to the call, he is fulfilling a mission and thus giving to his life a depth of meaning which is both human and divine.”

Father Kolvenbach used to say that each one of us is a vocation promoter, yet for all strategic and practical reasons, we have in each province/region an official vocation promoter or a team of vocation promoters.Now that the South Asian Assistancy has the largest number of Jesuits in the Society, sometimes there is a complacent feeling that our vocation scenario is much better than others and so a certain sense of lethargy seems to creep into us as regards vocation promotion. Though at present the Assistancy is rather comfortable with a good number of vocations, it is not true of all the provinces. There are some provinces in the Assistancy, which go through the crisis of a very small number of vocations. Moreover, the overall vocation scenario in statistics tells us that our Assistancy is also on the decline regarding vocation.

When we look at the chart of statistics of Jesuits in the Assistancy from 2002 to 2015, it is noted that we usually get an average of 250 novices every year; but in 2016 it has gone down to 240 novices. It is a matter of serious concern to observe that there has been a steady decline in the number of scholastics from the end of Novitiate to Theology. In 2002 we had 1128 scholastics; but in 2015 the number came down to 962. There has been a decline of 6.1% every year. The vocation to brotherhood has come to the lowest minimum or even nil in certain provinces.

Looking at this realistic picture and inspired by our love for the Society to continue the mission of Christ, the Assistancy in the last three years has been revamping and rejuvenating the promotion of vocation. Every year I convene the Assistancy level meeting of all the vocation promoters and we have been earnestly working at creative and effective methods and strategies of vocation promotion. I wish to share here some of the highlights in vocation promotion.

That we join the Society and not a province is told to us right from the Novitiate. That reminds us of our belonging to the universal Society by being admitted and rooted in a province. Our universal mission realized in our own province should not confine our concerns only to the limits of a province but they should become inter-provincial and global too. When certain provinces lack adequate numbers in vocation, it is the responsibility of those provinces which are abundant in vocation to share their vocations with them. Keeping this in mind, our vocation promotion today in the Assistancy is basically geared to the Society and not merely to the province alone. To achieve this, we have facilitated with the permission of the provincials for any vocation promoter to go to any vocation promotion camp in any province for recruitment. Moreover, some provinces are generous enough to offer their candidates to other needy provinces. In this process we insist that a province should share with others not their rejected candidates but their best candidates.

Vocation promoters (VPs) deploy different strategies and methods. The basic method is visiting parishes and educational institutions and addressing the students on the value of vocation to the Society by emphasizing the call of Christ today, by highlighting the life of St.Ignatius of Loyola and the popular Jesuit Saints like Francis Xavier, John de Britto and other pioneering Jesuits, by presenting the past history of the Society in a nutshell and by sharing with them the mission and ministries of the present Society.The vocation camps conducted in the summer are well planned to promote vocations and screen candidates. Some provinces still find it quite effective to have apostolic schools wherein the candidates from early schooling are trained and guided to follow the call of God.

VPs have a follow-up of the candidates through home visits, letters, WhatsApp, Facebook, blog and SMSmessages.Vocation advertisements are periodically published in local and national Catholic magazines, school magazines and on local television channels. They also distribute handbills, posters, bookmarks on vocation themes, calendars and booklets on lives of Saints. Vocation exhibitions, thematic competitions, Manresa, Magis and Inigo clubs, vocation talks, recollections and short retreats, ‘come & see’programmes do play an important role in vocation promotion. Our young VPs do not fail to make good use of the modern electronic media in their ministry.

Although adequate numbers of vocations are needed, not mere quantity but quality of vocations is insisted upon. Fr.General, in his first meeting with JCSA in Jabalpur last February, drove home the message that the process of selection and preparation of the candidates to enter novitiate needs to be paid special attention and care. In the wake of several candidates coming with a lot of mixed motives, of late the Assistancy has come out with a well-organized professional and holistic assessment of the candidates.

The VPs are trained in skillful recruitment of the candidates. Motivation, family background, basic faith formation, affective maturity, intellectual capacity, mental & physical fitness, human relationship, sexuality, extra-curricular activities and contra-indicative factors are all carefully looked into while recruiting. The pre-novitiate staff have been trained in the professional observation method to select rightly motivated candidates. Before the candidates enter the Novitiate, professional assessment by psychologists, observation method and four sheets of interviews are used to screen them.

Some suggestions to make vocation promotion better and more effective: It is rather a surprise factor that vocations coming from Jesuit institutions and ministry places are very few. The vocation promoters need to be supported and encouraged more by the local superiors, principals, headmasters and campus ministers. The system of having one vocation promoter in each community and the formation commission in the province needs to be revamped and activated. The collaboration of regents and young priests needs to be elicited more. The informal and friendly meeting of students by Jesuits in the educational institutions is worth activating to invite and attract more vocations.Jesuit Heritage Room and Notice Boards in our institutions to exhibit matters on Jesuits, their history, events, mission, achievements and challenges need to be created. Sometimes undue multi-tasking of vocation promoters does impede their ministry.

The inspiring words of Pedro Arrupe are appealing to our vocation promotion and the call to be a Jesuit:

Stay at home…
If the idea of becoming a Jesuit makes you unsettled or nervous.
Do not come to us if you love the Church like
A stepmother rather than a mother.
Do not come if you think that in so doing
you will be doing the Society of Jesus a favour.

Come…
If serving Christ is at the very center of your life.
Come if you have broad and sufficiently strong shoulders.
Come if you have an open spirit,
a reasonably open mind
and a heart larger than the world.
Come if you know how to tell a joke and can laugh with others
And … on occasions you can laugh at yourself.

A Scripture Professor and a veteran formator, the author is currently the South Asian Assistancy Delegate for Formation.