By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published April 26, 2012
As the Archdiocese of Atlanta approaches Vocations Awareness Week, Father Tim Hepburn, vocations director, took some time to discuss the importance of answering God’s call.
It is important to recognize that every person has a vocation, not just the ordained and religious, said Father Hepburn.
“A vocation is when a person awakens to the truth that Jesus still calls us,” he said. “All people are called.”
Father Hepburn described a vocation as initially being an invitation for followers of Christ to find that interior place where the Lord speaks, which may be different for each person though it is usually found in prayer. The vocation to which all people are called is holiness.
“That was one of the foundational … points of Vatican II,” that all people are called, he said. People have to find that on a personal level, he added.
When discerning a specific vocation, religious or not, it is important that the person seeks the desire of his or her heart, as that desire is what causes them to yearn to fulfill the vocation to which they are called, he said.
“There’s a whole tradition in the Church of teaching people to pay attention to their desire,” said Father Hepburn. “The Lord forms our desires and gives us a thirst for himself and to serve him.”
These desires come in all forms and fashions. From participating in the mystery of matrimony, which reflects the relationship of Christ and the Church, to serving the poor as a missionary, all desires have a place in the life of the Church. But discernment is not always an easy road.
It is not an automatic or easy process, said Father Hepburn. Those seeking to find their vocation have to be patient and open and willing to follow wherever God leads them.
“Our vision and our hearing of the Lord is veiled; it is obscure at times,” said Father Hepburn. “The first difficulty (in discerning a vocation) is learning to pray, learning to listen.”
Another challenge is working through one’s brokenness to discover where God wants a person.
“(Vocations) are based on the person’s nature, meaning their physical constitution, their psychological makeup, their life experiences. In our life and culture … people are broken,” he said.
The grassroots church community plays a very important role in the encouragement and fostering of vocations. Father Hepburn said a large number of inquiries about priestly vocations come through parish referrals. As the archdiocese grows, each parish has a significant responsibility to pray for and encourage vocations, priestly and otherwise, he said.
The parish is where you have community, where you are exposed to the life of a priest and the way the priest interacts with the larger church community, said Father Hepburn. It is a place of awakening, of awareness, and where prayer plays a significant role. The prayer of the parish is an important piece in the fostering of vocations. Father Hepburn reflected on the life and ministry of the late Archbishop John F. Donoghue and his influence on the way parishes foster vocations.
“There is no denying the truth that when (Archbishop Donoghue) made as one of his pastoral priorities prayer—specifically for him in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in as many parishes as possible—there was a vocational element to that prayer,” said Father Hepburn, who saw a rise in inquiries into religious vocations following the Eucharistic Renewal the archbishop initiated.
Families are also vital in discerning one’s vocation, Father Hepburn said. The family is meant to be a clear picture of St. Paul’s description of marriage as a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the Church.
“Marriage is a great mystery. It is a representation of the way Christ loves his Church and gave himself for her,” he said, adding that children need to experience what sacrificial love looks like through their parents. It is a familial responsibility, he said.
Father Hepburn believes these are the truths to be shared during Vocations Awareness Week.
“The Church always takes special time to highlight the mysteries of Christ,” said Father Hepburn. “It causes you to encounter them in a fresh way.”
“The Lord Jesus, who 2,000 years ago called James and John and Peter and Andrew … is calling men and women today to consecrate themselves to him in a special way,” he continued. “That is the reason for the week: to invite people to experience the mystery of that calling.”