By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Prayer. There is no substitute.
That was the message that priests and avowed men and women religious gave to some 800 Catholic school and home-schooled fifth graders at the 15th annual Fifth Grade Vocation Days Feb. 9-10.
Gathered at Archbishop O’Hara High School, the fifth graders learned that God has a plan for their lives, and the only way to know that plan was to talk and listen to God in prayer.
Some of the priests and religious brothers and sisters who spoke to the fifth graders in both large and small groups told them that they had even pursued other calls until God’s call to religious life could not be ignored.
“I went to college, got a degree in mathematics and I taught math,” Father Joe Miller, director of vocations for the Society of the Most Precious Blood, told boys in small group sessions.
“I almost got married,” he said. “But I really felt the nudge of God calling me to be a priest.”
And it was a nudge heard only in prayer, Father Miller said. God sent him no loud, clear instructions.
“It wasn’t a bolt of lightning, or a burning bush like Moses,” he said. “God will call you similar to the way he called me. It will be a little nudge, a little pull inside.”
Franciscan Sister Mary Clare Eichman told the fifth graders that she also wanted to be married and have a family.
“Even though I had a job I liked, something was missing,” she said.
“I always thought that I just hadn’t found that perfect guy yet,” Sister Mary Clare said. “Then I found that perfect guy” — Jesus.
She recalled her sister, Pam, expecting her first child, telling her “This was what I was created to do.”
“I learned that God was calling me,” she said. “Only when I started living out religious life, I finally understood my sister’s words. This is what I was created to do. It’s brought me more joy and fulfillment than I could ever dream of.”
Diocesan vocations director Father Richard Rocha told the fifth graders that he was a football coach at both the college and the high school levels before he responded to his call to the priesthood.
He introduced seminarians Michael Leeper, who told the fifth graders he heard the call in the U.S. Navy, and Sean McCaffery, who said he had a Hollywood acting career going, including a part in a Hannah Montana video, when he responded to his call.
God may be calling any of the fifth graders to religious life, to married life, or to single life. But he is calling them to something, the priests and religious told the fifth graders.
“Don’t be afraid to listen to his dreams for you,” Sister Mary Clare said. “You’ll be amazed.”
The fifth graders got the message, as well as learning about the lives of priests, religious brothers and sisters.
“We learned what it is like to be a sister,” said Isabel Flores, of St. Peter School in Kansas City. “It means you are married to God.”
“Being a priest is fun, but sometimes it can be sad when people die,” said Xavier Lamros of Nativity of Mary School in Independence.
“We learned there is a difference between nuns and sisters,” said Madison Clark of Our Lady of the Presentation School in Lee’s Summit. “Sisters are more missionary, and more active in the community. Nuns are more cloistered and they pray a lot.”
“If you pray and listen to God,” said Emilie Connors of Presentation, “God will tell you your mission in life.”
Bishop Robert W. Finn, in his homily at Mass that ended each day, told the fifth graders, that it isn’t always easy to hear God’s voice through all the distractions and noise of living.
“We have to know which voices to follow, which paths to follow,” he said.
“We have to listen to him in our hearts. We have to listen to him in the Word of God. We have to listen to him in the teachings of the church, and we have to listen to him in our prayers,” the bishop said.
“Sometimes we just need to be quiet with God in prayer,” he said. “If we do that more and more, we can recognize God’s voice calling us.”
Bishop Finn said time spent in prayer will help a young person recognize the voice of God just as easily as they recognize their best friend’s voice or a parent’s voice immediately over a telephone.
“We learn to recognize the voices of people we care about and love immediately,” he said.
“We need to spend time with the Lord Jesus Christ so we can begin to recognize his voice,” Bishop Finn said. “This is the voice that really matters, the person who loves us and cares for us through and through. We have to learn to listen to Our Lord, Jesus Christ. He will call you.”
Bishop Finn asked the fifth graders to pray for him, and he promised to pray for them as well.
“Jesus has a plan for you,” he said. “My prayer for you is that you will say, ‘Yes.’”