Vocations Ireland is an association of vocation directors from religious orders, congregation and societies which provides training in ethical decision-making and assessment of candidates for religious life and priesthood.
Over the last number of years, the association has sought to address the reality of life in Ireland and give professional training for those in the vocations ministry.
On the topic of vocations, The Irish Catholic spoke to three board members of Vocations Ireland about their current initiatives, upcoming projects and how they are faring during the crisis.
The first to speak is Sr Fionnuala Quinn OP, chairperson of the Vocations Ireland executive committee and vocation director for the Dominican Sisters in Cabra, Dublin.
“Today, we seek to awaken a culture of vocation, in a wider context, that is characterised by inquiry, meaning, making, authenticity, while grounded in the search for the transcendent.
“There is a different consciousness now,” continues Sr Quinn, adding that “vocations are nurtured with creativity and authenticity”.
“We are about consciousness awakening, becoming present to our spiritual depths, to nurturing an awareness of the Divine presence within.”
Although Sr Quinn admits there is a “crisis of vocation”, she explains it is about “public perception of the institutional Church” and “a crisis of Faith in relation to God”.
“What Faith provides for people is a lens through which to look at life,” she says. “Faith gives a person a way of relating to the universe, other people, oneself and the divine.
“Searchers today are often at a loss as to where to begin looking for purpose and meaning from a Faith perspective.
“We are at a time of kairos,” says Sr Quinn, “a turning point and a time of opportunity to look at what really matters in life.
“What really matters are our relationships, with our families, our neighbours and our world.”
On the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, she feels there is “opportunity to withdraw” from the “business of our minds” and to “sink down to where the indwelling of God is present and to nurture our relationship with the transcendent one”.
“This is an ideal time for discerning what is the meaning of life for all of us and to be open to the promptings of the Spirit,” Sr Quinn says.
“As a woman religious for the past 50 years, I can honestly say the search for God, for meaning in life has never grown old for me and the search for meaning now is even more urgent that ever.”
The next board member to discuss present and future directives is Fr Alan Neville MSC of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.
“There are two things really,” he says when asked what the challenges are concerning vocations in this country. “The first is the membership to vocations in Ireland where we will be looking at how vocations are matching up to reality.
“The second is getting ourselves proactive in getting the numbers entering vocations to go up as opposed to being reactive, which is being discussed among ourselves.”
He continues: “There’s stuff going on and a lot of it is ‘up in the air’ as we have been ‘caught on the hop’ due to this pandemic, but we hope we can get people to be proactive during hard times to do vocations.
“What we are hoping is that we can get them together and say ‘this is where we are’ and go from there.”
Fr Neville feels the Church has had to “get up to speed” with things like social media and streaming services online during the crisis, and “break into places” where it “wouldn’t normally have gone”.
“We have seen churches go out to their communities and offer their services, which something I wouldn’t have seen previously,” he says on the Church reaching out.
“There is a real sense in this crisis of being able to find ourselves,” says Fr Neville of his hope for more vocations. “People, while they remain very strong, will be feeling that absence of being able to come to churches and celebrate the sacraments.
“There will be signs of new life and new opportunities out of this crisis, it’s the engagement that creates a new line of outreach.”
Sr Carmel Ryan DC of the Daughters of Charity, another board member, says most of the association’s initiatives are currently online as the pandemic disrupts the usual way of meeting people face-to-face.
“I keep contact with people through email, phone and Whatsapp,” she explains. “I have been involved in a little spiritual direction through talking to the individual on the phone as we cannot meet and it helps them to have the opportunity to keep regular contact through these strange times. Another initiative has been to update and create resources that may be used into the future on social media platforms and in more traditional ways as well.
“Many people are using these platforms to access places of prayer and reflection during these times and we keep our media presence updated with some pieces for people to use for prayer and reflection.”
One of the upcoming projects Sr Ryan says she will be involved in is the development of appropriate resources for online publication. “It was said recently that ‘young people live online’ and it is where we meet young people. I will be putting more time and energy into providing space for reflection and prayer online.
“There is time for greater reflection, solitude and prayer,” says Sr Ryan of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
“It has given me the opportunity to discern what is most valuable in life. I am thankful for the space and opportunity to enjoy life at a slightly slower pace and I value the freedoms that I have always taken for granted until now.”
Vocation, according to Sr Ryan, is “a call to live life in a particular way” and adds that now is an ideal time to “re-evaluate” our lives for going forward.
“Many of us have the opportunity during this time of pandemic to question, ponder and reflect on what our calling in life is.
“We have during these times the opportunity to value our relationships; our relationship with God, other people and oneself.
“Perhaps this may prompt some people to re-evaluate how they live their lives and we, as vocation directors, will assist all who ask us,” she says.