During a scavenger hunt at school, Annelise Reinagel paused and asked: Why are we looking for water?
The sixth-grader at Little Flower School in Richmond Heights noticed the strong water motif flowing through that morning’s presentation on vocations.
“Because it’s about quenching your thirst for?” religion teacher Julie Saeger asked students.
“Jesus,” students responded.
Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Little Flower participated in Focus 11, a virtual vocations event held Jan. 31 and sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Vocations. The event was held in conjunction with Catholic Schools Week, observed nationally Jan. 29-Feb. 4.
More than 1,000 middle-school age students from 25 schools in the archdiocese registered for the Jan. 31 presentation, which was broadcast live via YouTube from St. Mary Magdalen Church in St. Louis, where archdiocesan vocations director Father Brian Fallon serves as pastor. Joining him for the hour-long presentation was Sister Karolyn Nunes, vocations director for the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George.
Focus 11 grew out of studies that indicated children around the age of 11 begin to think about what they want to become in the future. Another significant “11” happens around 11th grade, when teens begin to look at more realistic explorations of career and life choices. The Focus 11 concept originated in the Archdiocese of Detroit in 1989 as a day of reflection and has since expanded to other dioceses, including the Archdiocese of St. Louis, where it has taken place for years.
Father Fallon and Sister Karolyn shared talks, stories and prayers centered on the biblical theme of water, as they led students to think more deeply about how they’re following God and understanding what it means to have a vocation. Schools were given breaks for a quiz on biblical and other references to water and a water-themed scavenger hunt.
“We’re hoping that this theme of water and recognizing Jesus is the one who satisfies our thirst can be something that will help us to fall deeper in love with Him,” Father Fallon said. “If we fall deeper in love with Jesus, then we will be able to recognize that He’s the one who satisfies” us. We can then ask ourselves how we can better serve others and to serve Him as Christians.
So often we have desires in our hearts, but we struggle with quenching the thirst that we’re feeling, because we’re looking in the wrong places.
There’s a deep desire that’s placed in our hearts for God, Sister Karolyn said. He freely created us to share in His own blessed life, a God of life and love. Therefore, we have an “infinite yearning for life and love that only He can satisfy,” she said.
Through learning about God and His love for us, we can better know His plan for our lives, said Father Fallon. He encouraged young people as they think about their future to consider how God is working in their lives at this moment in time.
Father Fallon said someone helped him understand at a young age that how he’s living his life in the moment has a role in how he experiences the rest of his life. “Don’t just wait for your life to begin — it has begun,” he said. “Living in the freedom that comes with being a child of God, we’re able to trust in the Lord.”
Reflecting on the presentation, Little Flower students made a connection between having their thirst quenched by Jesus and how they live their Catholic faith. Sixth-grader Hannah Molina noted that prayer is an important part of having her thirst quenched.
“I thank Jesus for what He’s done for me and the ways He’s helped me through the day,” she said.
Eighth-grader Audrey Giljum said she receives her strength from the Eucharist, where Christ is truly present. She also noted the importance of attending Mass on Sundays and during the week as a Catholic school community. “When we receive His body, He helps us to be more like Him and to be one” Body of Christ, she said.
Several seventh-graders cited the importance of service and reaching out to others. Clare Koontz noted that the school has been collecting items for the Rural Parish Workers of Christ the King, which will be shared with people in need in rural areas. Students also sponsor a child from Guatemala through Unbound.
When considering a future vocation, seventh-grader David Dietz said it’s important to pay attention to how God is calling us through others.
“You have to look for God acting through other people,” he said. “He’s probably not going open up through the heavens and give you your vocation.”
Father Brian Fallon offered two concrete ways that young people — and really, anyone of any age — can become disciples of the Lord:
Daily prayer: It’s not just prayer before meals and Mass on Sundays, but reflecting daily on how I can live life with God at the center. God hears when we pray. Talk to Him and let Him know how you’re doing. When we sit in silence and talk to our Heavenly Father, we begin to notice that He’s accompanying us.
Consider how you can be the Lord’s helper: It’s important to think less about ourselves and more about how we can help the Lord in His mission. Ask Him every day: How can I help? Small actions such as helping around the house or being there for a friend in need add up to be something big — living a life as a disciple of the Lord.
To watch the Focus 11 presentation, visit stlreview.com/3kVhlxb
Upcoming vocations events
Upcoming vocations events include a Nun Run on Feb. 11; a men’s discernment retreat Feb. 10-12; and a Come and See event at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary April 8-10. For more information on these and other events, and more about discerning a vocation, visit the Office of Vocations online at www.stlvocations.org. The Vocations Office also has an Instagram page at @stlvocations.