It Takes a Tribe

by Adam Burns

It was a humbling experience this past weekend to be autographing copies of my own book for parishioners at my home parish, St Patrick’s in Beenleigh, where I was tagging along with the rest of the Vocations team who were in town for the Vocations Roadshow.

Many parishioners there remember me from when my family first moved to the parish as I began high school at the local Catholic college. Since that time they watched me grow up and leave to go on mission, then later enter the seminary. I know some still follow my progress in my work with Vocation Brisbane. When I’m home many of them will check in with me, offer wisdom and advice and assure me of their prayers. It’s this experience of community that has been so foundational to my whole Christian journey, let alone my vocational discernment.

In all the States of Life, the support and endorsement of a community is essential. Before any man begins the discernment process of the priesthood, a key question he is asked is who is calling him to be a priest? Besides God, a man is called from the community, in order to serve the community.

So too a married couple must have the support of the community. While the marriage is officially witnessed by the priest and two witnesses, the wedding liturgy essentially involves participation from those gathered. Some men still bravely hold the custom of asking the future bride’s parents for their permission (I told my future in-laws it would be “nice to have their blessing”).

The support of a community is equally evident in the Religious Life and Single Life, or any vocation for that matter. It’s the reality that we don’t discern in a vacuum, we don’t live on islands separate from each other.

The emphasis on community reveals another aspect to vocation that we might not often think about: our vocation is meant to impact others. How we live God’s call in our lives is meant to have an effect on the people around us, precisely because that call is to live for God and others. Sometimes vocational questioning focuses on “how do I become the best version of myself?” But unless this question considers how that best version serves others, it’s the wrong question.

It may seem a strange statement, especially in light of the tall poppy syndrome that is so engrained in our culture, but we should aspire to inspire, effect and move those around us by the way we live our lives, whether that’s in our jobs, or in our homes and in our families.

So we need to listen to those around us, and we need to engage in the life of our community. Perhaps more importantly though, our communities need to engage in the lives of those individuals that make up our community, especially the lives of young people. We need to encourage them to pursue their vocation, to challenge them to consider a  priestly or Religious calling. Just as urgent is the need to engage young couples, and to offer them positive examples of marriage and family life, so that when they start their own family community, it will contribute to the wider community.

It’s not enough to say “I’ve discerned my vocation, I’ve lived it, vocation has nothing to do with me anymore”, because our calling requires us to walk with others in all stages of life. Neither should we think we can figure it out alone: "It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone" (Gen 2:18).