8. Cultivating Our Own Vocation
350. An integral and thoroughgoing vocation ministry must look after the fidelity and perseverance of those who are already living the Claretian vocation in the Congregation. Even more, our work for vocations—for which all of our missionaries are responsible—not only requires that we earnestly take care of our own personal vocation, but also prompts each one of us to enable the rest of our brothers to have the same joyful experience of their vocation and to facilitate their fidelity and perseverance with our brotherly help.
351. The renewed Constitutions encourage and guide us to take care of our own vocation. They provide us with motivations and means to ensure and safeguard it. In addition to this, there are some norms of prudence and vigilance to guide us in different areas that could occasion the loss of our vocation. Thus:
1.º It is God who has called us, not because of any merit of our own but according to his own gracious design, and has justified us in Jesus Christ. Therefore we should be firmly convinced that he who began this good work in us will carry it to completion, right up to the day of Jesus Christ. (CC 51).
2º. In addition to being firmly convinced that it is God who acts, we must cooperate with his grace. We should strive to respond gladly and generously to God’s fidelity toward us by our own fidelity toward God. (CC 67). Through our good efforts each of us should show that he is solicitous to make his call and election permanent (CC 60). We should strive in particular to safeguard our missionary vocation with Gospel humility (CC 64).
1. Fidelity to vocation
352. The distinctive gift of our vocation is not something that is exclusively our own business or left to our own arbitrary judgment. It has its origin in God’s love and constantly demands of us a radical and progressive response God’s love in keeping with the dynamics of our call, which has been recognized in our profession. Freedom does not consist in the ability to say “no” to that call or in the ability to unsay, at a given moment in life, the commitment we made before God in response to His call. Freedom consists of voluntarily carrying out God’s plan. The value of our own life through being and action and, to some extent, the value of the life of others through theirs, is indissolubly linked to the “yes” of our vocation. On this theological-existential level, every failing in fidelity involves a degree of personal and communal frustration, with its resultant, inevitable repercussion on the life of the Church and on the world of souls.
353. The call to follow Christ encompasses our whole person and demands of us a response in faith and love. Fidelity to vocation springs from a lively faith, and from a love that surrenders itself totally and without reserve: Only this nuptial kind of love that encompasses the entire affective life of a person will allow him to adopt and sustain the renunciations and crosses that are necessarily met by anyone who wants to lose his life for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. (Cf. PI. 9)
354. Fidelity to vocation: 1º. Is intimately related to the idea of a commitment that is made, and both humanly and freely accepted. This implies in the person: a capacity for truth, whereby the person «truly» acts, free of conscious or unconscious deceits both toward himself and toward God, aware of the real significance of the commitment that he has personally made; and also a capacity for personal solidity and stability, whereby the commitment he has made will not only be true, but also one that he can make real and embody in an effective and practical way.
355. 2º. In addition to assuming it till death, the vocation includes a sense of intense living of the commitments one has stably yaken on. One it is not faithful to his vocation by the mere fact of persevering in it till the end of his life; it is necessary to live one’s vocational commitments with the highest possible intensity and creativity. Fidelity does not mean merely persevering; rather, it means constantly re-creating oneself in the face of challenges in new circumstances. In the realm of fidelity to vocation, selfish restrictions on one’s commitment and generosity constitute an «unfaithfulness» to one’s vocation.
356. 3º. It always implies the renunciation of many human values and realities that are sacrificed for Christ without cause and even, at times, without any apparent meaning. This renunciation will constantly be putting the person who is called to some harsh tests in remaining faithful without conditions or hopes of an immediate reward. All this will lead him to live a life of fidelity to vocation that is rooted in love, freedom and the demands of the commitments he has undertaken. Without love and freedom one cannot expect to be faithful to his vocation. To love means to give, to give oneself totally, without limitations of time, space and intensity. Hence, the renunciations that fidelity entails will never be de-personalizing or lead to maladjustment so long as they are carried out with love and personal freedom.
2. Our Father Founder
357. Our Father Founder constantly insists that we be faithful to our vocation and he urges us to live it in a radical way. In Claret’s view, Satan will do everything possible to frustrate any vocation, even transforming himself into an angel of light. In spite of the temptations and difficulties of the Evil One, we must keep struggling, with the help of God and the Blessed Virgin Mary, to be faithful to our call.
358. To achieve this, we must esteem our vocation, live with the docility of disciples, foster joy and hard work, and pray in particular to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Claret insists on the need to watch and pray. As Jesus told his disciples, Claret tells his Missionaries: «Watch and pray so that you not fail in your vocation.” Claret also asks them to be watchful to avoid temptations against vocation, and offers his Missionaries some adequate means for overcoming them. He also asks them to pray that they may be thankful for their vocation and that may receive the grace of fidelity to it. In this last sense, our Father Founder has left us a beautiful prayer, the magnificat of the Claretian vocation. In it, we bless God for calling us to be Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and ask our Mother for the help we need in order to respond to the grace of vocation and to grow in it.
359. To anyone who would like to be a Missionary, Claret offers a program of apostolic life based on his own personal experience, yet one that will be of great advantage to the candidate The missionary should be given to prayer; mortified, self-sacrificing and a lover of the cross; sparing in eating and drinking; very fond of poverty and unselfish; he must struggle against the love of pleasures, the love of riches and the love of honors; and should imitate Jesus Christ in humility (the foundation of all virtues) and in meekness (to be able to face persecutions).
3. The Tradition of the Congregation
3.1. General Superiors
360. General Superiors frequently call the attention of all Missionaries to live with joy and fidelity the gift of their own vocation they have received from the Lord and to help their brothers to live it. Frs. Joseph Xifre, Clement Serrat, Martin Alsina, Nicholas García, and Peter Schweiger addressed several Circulars to the Congregation on this matter. In them they gave concrete guidelines to stimulate constant growth and perseverance in our vocation.
3.2. The Claretian Martyrs
361. A sublime witness of fidelity was given by our brothers, the Blessed Martyrs of Barbastro. At the hour of death, the fidelity to vocation of the community group, filled with vocational mystique and enthusiasm, did not leave the tiniest nook or cranny open for doubts or discouragement or fear of breaking ranks to creep in. In their martyrdom their project of life, with all the aspects that make it up, took on its full meaning. In that act of love, the sweeping acceptance of the full thrust of their faith and missionary vocation, with all its references and implications, was firmly sealed.
4. Formative Dimension
362. The selection of vocations and the formation of a Claretian are realities that determine his future, his fidelity and perseverance. In the formative aspect, the objective for promoting fidelity to vocation should be that the formandus acquire the sufficient and necessary capacity to respond effectively, with renunciation, freedom and love, and in a radical way, to the commitments he has made for the rest of his life.
363. Along the lines of radicality and coherence, we should offer our formandi an integral formation of high quality, always aspiring toward what is best, most committed and challenging. While it is necessary to work earnestly to increase the number of candidates, it is even more necessary to provide them with quality of formation. This formation should be personalized, updated, deeply Claretian and demanding; it should be based on a true and solid apostolic spirituality, and should lead the formandus to maturity in his personality and stability and consistency in his options and decisions. Without it, the formandus will offer no guarantee of fidelity and will not be ready to embrace with joy and missionary spirit the renunciations inherent in his own vocation, including martyrdom.
364. In order to carry out the fundamental option of his profession, the missionary has to be psychologically and spiritually mature. Since options affect the totality of the person, he must possess great intellectual, spiritual and tendential maturity, with a capacity for an overall orientation of his life and of his way of viewing reality. Only one who has attained this level of maturity can set before himself the meaning of his own life and relate his own self with the world of values he wishes to embrace. The best guarantee of firmness and stability of the option is the fact that it has been accepted with due seriousness and responsibility, after a process of human and supernatural maturation.
365. The formative process should lead the formandus to the conviction that God has a vocational design for him encompassing his entire life. All his life should be a generous answer to this divine call which gives him a special place in the world and in the Church.This response cannot be a forced submission; it must be a psychologically free and loving response to a providential plan of grace and salvation.
366. Love for and appreciation of one’s vocation, and fidelity to it, must come through conformity with Christ on the cross and, consequently, one’s self-denial and total self-giving to the cause of Jesus. The formandus must succeed in personally assimilating these values and be trained to sacrifice himself generously and with evangelical radicalism out of love for Christ in the ordinary conditions of his life. Otherwise, he would not offer guarantees of perseverance and development of his first decision to follow the apostolic life of Jesus.
367. Guarantees of a definitive commitment to God, to the Church and to the Congregation also require that the formandus has attained emotional balance, lucidity of religious judgment, and a mature use of his freedom.
368. Formators should act with a personalized methodology. Their aim should constantly be that these convictions and their putting them in practice spring from a conscious, free and generous response of the whole self of the formandus. He should not be led by a passive attitude or by a merely receptive influence of his formator or of his surroundings.; he should form a personal, active attitude toward them so that later on, when a formator is absent, and the surroundings are unfavorable, not only would these convictions not disappear, but would continue developing to the point of reaching an authentic religious and apostolic holiness.
5. Pedagogical Guidelines
369. The call of God is in the first place an unmerited and unfading gift. That is why we must ask for it every day and be convinced that the Father always grants his Spirit to those who insistently ask for it.
370. For every Claretian, Mary, Mother and Formation Guide of Apostles, must be the one who inspires his living synthesis until he reaches fulfillment in an inner oneness. In our spirituality, she helps us in the process of integrating our personality and in fidelity to the Word. She, welcoming us into the forge of her Heart, forms us in apostolic charity, the essential motivation that drives the Missionary’s life.Our Mother teaches us to welcome the Word of God into our hearts with joy, to be coherent with it, putting it into practice and making it effective throughout our life
5.1. Personal responsibility
371. In order to respond fittingly to our vocation and missionary holiness, we must strive above all to have a lively awareness of our vocation through prayer and reflection on our call. Furthermore, we need a sincere, ardent and efficacious desire for this holiness that is translated into a daily resolve for our own spiritual renewal. Finally, we must do everything with an upright intention and fervour of spirit, with the love and solicitude of someone who is preoccupied with the concerns of his Father.
372. In a general perspective, a process of ongoing formation that is carried out seriously and responsibly is the greatest guarantee of promoting fidelity to vocation. Because he has received the gift of vocation, each Claretian should have an attitude of constantly growing in fidelity to it. Vocation is a dynamic gift. God is constantly calling us. And we ought to answer this call with fidelity. Our vocational charism and the gifts of nature and grace that we have received are dynamic forces that make us grow as persons in order to develop our own project of life.
5.1.1. Reflecting on the signs of our own vocation
373. The Claretian vocation is an experience of faith in which a Missionary feels called and questioned personally by Jesus to follow Him in the style of the Apostles and Claret. Unless a religious is fully aware of a personal call from the Lord, it is impossible for him to set out on his vocational walk and to hold to it steadily until death.
374. The awareness of a call from God is discovered in faith through vocational signs, moments in the personal history of the religious in which he senses the presence of the Lord invitating him to follow Him.  These intense moments of vocational experience are so real that they cannot be forgotten. Moreover, they must be renewed and made present in the moments of vocational difficulties.
375. When a Claretian loses the sense of being personally called, his life becomes characterized by a notable mediocrity, or by a lack of meaning of the things he does in community and in the apostolate, or even by a definitive breakdown of his option for the religious life. Since he no longer feels the Lord’s call within himself, he feels out of place and unable to unify his personality in the fulfillment of his vocational mission.
5.1.2. Prayer with a vocational thrust
376. In the renewal of vocational awareness, prayer is of the highest importance, and for the missionary, this prayer should always have a vocational thrust. Through it, the missionary feels and experiences the urgency to commit himself to his vocation. Vocational prayer creates an awareness of the continuous call of the Lord inviting the one called to deepen the demands of the gospel in his own life. When this contact with the Lord who calls is broken, the perception of this call is lost. And if the perception of this call vanishes, one’s commitment to his vocation no longer makes sense and and it breaks down.
5.1.3. A vocational and assiduous reading of the Word of God
377. A vocational and assiduous reading of the Word of God must aim at creating the capacity to constantly ask God, and Christ, about His plans for each one of us. It must be practised with the attitude of a believer, full of simplicity, humility and love. In the Sacred Scriptures, meditated on with loving faith –the credidimus caritati quam Deus habet in nobis of St. John- the person always finds an adequate answer to his call. In the Word of God, the missionary finds satisfactory answers to the countless questions constantly posed by his vocation; questions that must be resolved and settled, and can only find workable answers from the standpoint the Word of God.
378. Listening to and meditating on the Word of God should lead us re-create an attitude of vocational faith and obedience to Christ, manifested in a firm and continuous attitude of accepting the will of God—an attitude of constant and generous fidelity to our calling. In this way a merely rationalistic and moralistic sense of following our vocations vanishes. What we must succeed in doing is to understand that our vocation is not a question of evidence or duty, but rather a sign of love accepted in faith and freedom; a sign of the love that the Father has revealed to us in Christ, of the love that Christ has manifested in choosing us, and of the love for God and neighbour that we manifest by means of a total and definitive commitment.
5.1.4. Fidelity to the dynamisms that animate our missionary life
379. To guarantee fidelity to vocation in the long term, it is necessary to promote and guarantee fidelity to the personal and community dynamisms that define our project of missionary life (daily personal and community prayer, reading the Word of God, daily Eucharist, frequent confession, monthly recollection, spiritual exercises). Abandoning these things is often the beginning of the crumbling of one’s vocation. For us, the Constitutions establish the necessary and sufficient dynamisms to increase the quality of our community life. It is not a matter of looking for extraordinary means, but rather of carrying out the ordinary means already available to us in an extraordinary way.
5.1.5. Capacity to maintain the fundamental option
380. One’s fundamental option, though definitive, can be broken. It is, after all, a human decision made by a free person, who can change it whenever he chooses. For this reason, one must defend it from the conflicts and contrary options that can undermine it little by little and at length break it down totally.
381. It is necessary for a Claretian to grasp that the conflicts that arise for the missionary life in his daily round of tasks must not be allowed to weaken his option. Conflicts, in principle, should not put one’s option in crisis. On the contrary, they should serve to reinforce it, strengthen it and give it more consistency. The fundamental option should serve to clarify life’s conflicts, helping us to illumine them by faith and to overcome with love.
382. The Claretian must have a good capacity to renounce any experience contrary to his option. Indeed, he must even avoid ambivalent life-experiences which, since they are always dynamic, systematically keep chipping away at the fundamental option until they weaken it or destroy it. Lastly, he must control his emotional and affective life in a positive way.
383. To be effective and lasting, the fundamental option must be supported by an internally and externally disciplined life. Discipline not only matures one’s personality but also allows him to make those life choices that are best suited to his fundamental option. Discipline is the inner control of those tendencies which, when duly unified, are oriented in the direction of the fundamental option.
5.1.6. The personal project and spiritual direction
384. The drafting and faithful carrying out of our personal project or growth project is another very effective means for promoting fidelity to vocation. Personal plans are very valid tools that can help us make a personal response to the call to holiness to which we have been invited in our vocation. They also help us to improve the quality of life in community by stirring up in each one of us a greater commitment to our brothers, to enhance our missionary work with the vigor of apostolic charity, and to maintain our fidelity to vocation. Our Founder always attached great importance to resolutions and projects of life for their efficacy in scientific, spiritual and apostolic growth.
385. In order for our personal project to truly respond to its objective, it should start from an experience of faith and should encompass the main dimensions of our person and our vocation (physical, psychological, intellectual, spiritual, community and apostolic-ministerial dimensions), and should meet with the agreement of the community and the superiors. In drafting it, we should strive to be realistic, concrete, simple and flexible, so that we can periodically adjust it to new situations as they. It should take into account such diverse matters as: physical exercise, sports, diet, the harmonious distribution of the day, the type and frequency of reading and study, and the means and dynamics of the spiritual and apostolic life.
386. Our personal project should be shared with our spiritual director Spiritual direction has always been considered an effective means to know the will of God, to advance in holiness of life and to be faithful to vocation. When a person abandons this means for any reason, he not only loses his orientation but also rules out an objective confrontation that might spur and stimulate him to achieve a better formation and to keep moving forward in fidelity.
5.2. Responsibility of the Congregation
387. The Congregation and the Province should select and prepare the “best qualified” for formation posts and must rule out the less qualified. This has been a traditional criterion in the Congregation frequently stated.
388. One of the main duties of superiors is to help missionaries in their difficulties, exhausting all available means and with no other limitations than the common good. They should be especially concerned for those young men who have finished their formation, and they should show this concern through dialogue, meetings, courses, and appropriate assignments
389. The local community must be faithful to the Claretian Project and the dynamisms of spiritual, community and apostolic life established in the Constitutions. Life in community stimulates and encourages us to persevere in our vocation. The fidelity of all the members encourages each one to be faithful.
5.2.1. The “Fifth Year”
390. In this stage of the missionary life, the Claretian should discover a new way of remaining faithful to God, so that he may give an adequate response to the challenges that arise for him in his new situation. Since ongoing formation is an overall process of renewal that embraces all aspects of the person of the religious, the Claretian during these years should give special importance:
- To a spiritual life lived in harmony with action.
- To spiritual and pastoral accompaniment that will keep integrating his ministerial preparation and his experience of life.
- To doctrinal renewal, by updating and applying in practice what he has learned during initial formation.
- To the psychological process of adaptation to community and missionary service.
391. The most recent General Chapters have recommended in a special way that the Congregation offer some help, by way of certain initiatives of formation, to priests during the first five years of their ministry and to Brothers during the first five years following their perpetual profession. Concretely, this help may be explicitly provided for by:
- Assigning these persons to communities that strive to live the missionary project of Claretian life in all its dimensions.
- Entrusting them with responsibilities that do not exceed their capacity and are adjusted to their personal situation as much as possible.
- Assuring them continuity in their accompaniment.
- Offering them yearly encounters for formation and revision.
392. The local community, the Superior and all its members should carry out a priority role in the accompaniment of young missionaries during the “Fifth Year”. The fidelity of the community to the community’s project, to personal and community prayer, to monthly meetings, to pastoral plans and other commitments will undoubtedly be one the most adequate means to accom-pany and support the fidelity of these young Claretians. They must not be frustrated by experiences contrary to those that they lived during the time of their formation.
393. In addition to the initiatives offered by the Congregation and the Major Organisms, we should see to it that young Claretians attend courses and encounters organized on the diocesan, interprovincial and intercongre-gational level for young priests and religious.
394. This period can be ended with an encounter of one or two months’ duration, considered as a renewal encounter, with at least a partial cessation of other activities. Its aim is to update the participants’ knowledge and in particular to intensify their spiritual formation, as adapted to the real life lived by missionaries.
5.2.2. Special personal situations
395. In the life of a Claretian critical situations may arise due to several factors. Sometimes, there are external factors, such as changes in community or congregational life, new assignments, difficulties in work or apostolate, misunderstandings, feelings of alienation, marginalization and others. Other times, there are more directly personal factors such as physical or mental illness, emotional problems, difficulties in interpersonal relations, spiritual aridity, lack of apostolic success, strong temptations, crises of faith or identity, or feelings of uselessness and the like. In these situations fidelity becomes more difficult even to the point of questioning one’s vocation.
396. The superiors, brethren and the whole community must manifest great understanding toward a brother who is suffering and must offer him all available help. Everyone, but most especially superiors, must show him greater trust, deeper love and closeness. He can also be helped, even through the aid of other qualified personnel, to restructure his personality, to rediscover the meaning of his option, and to integrate the trial he is undergoing into his vocation. The trial itself will then be accepted as a cross, as a personal purification and as a means to grow in fidelity to the Lord.