Discerning a Vocation in Elementary and Middle School

by Seminarian Raney Johnson

It might seem too early to begin discerning a vocation in elementary and middle school. Yet, whenever I give a talk about vocations to young Catholics, I remind them that it is never too early to start thinking about a vocation. St. Therese of Lisieux first desired to become a Carmelite nun around the age of 9, and St. Don Bosco was a little boy whenever he first told his mama that he wanted to be a priest. I started discerning my own vocation to the priesthood when I was in elementary school, and I discerned my vocation with greater intensity while I was in the 7th grade. Discerning a vocation in elementary and middle school can be difficult because it seems so far in the future. However, we can imagine ourselves as doctors, lawyers, basketball players and so many other occupations in the future while in elementary and middle school, why not imagine being a priest or a religious.

I hope to offer some advice to young Catholics in elementary and middle school who are thinking about a vocation to the priesthood, and I hope my advice will also help their parents. My first word of advice is mainly for young Catholics who have already received First Communion. The best way to start discerning a vocation to the priesthood at a young age is to frequent the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Most young Catholics attend Mass every Sunday with their families, and those who go to Catholic School get the opportunity to go to Mass twice a week, on Sunday and once during the week. Jesus speaks to us through the Mass, and it is through the Mass that we grow closer to Jesus when we receive his Body and Blood during Communion. It is often at Mass while watching the priest that many boys feel drawn to the priesthood. My second word of advice is to develop a prayer life. It is always best to start off simple. At first it can be as simple as praying the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be every morning and every night. Developing the practice of a morning offering by thanking God for a new day and asking for God’s protection is another way to develop a spiritual life at a young age. Once it becomes routine to talk to God through prayer, then it might help to ask God about a vocation to the priesthood by praying, “God, are you calling me to be a priest, if so, please guide me” or “God, I want to be a priest, please help me to discern.” Even more beneficial is praying together with family members. This could be done by using any type of prayer, especially the rosary. My third word of advice is to become an altar server. Helping to serve at the altar during the Mass is a great way to explore a desire for the priesthood. Some parishes allow for young Catholics to become altar servers right after First Communion, but the age requirement to be an altar server might be around fourth or fifth grade at other parishes. I definitely encourage speaking with the parish priest and asking him about becoming an altar server.

My final word of advice is for the parents of young Catholics discerning the priesthood in elementary and middle school. Please share this article with your son if he is discerning a vocation to the priesthood, and encourage him to pray and listen to God’s will. To any young Catholics discerning a vocation to the priesthood, I encourage you with the words that St. John Paul II often quoted from Scripture, “Be not afraid.” God will guide you throughout your discernment.

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