What is a vocation?
The literal meaning of the word vocation is a “call.” It comes from the Latin word “vocare”: to call. However a vocation is more than an ordinary call. A vocation is a call from God, and anyone who has felt God’s call knows that the process is anything but simple. While most people think of a vocation as what they are called to do in life, it is important to understand that the first and most important call from God, is a call to be holy. We are all called through our Baptism to share in Christ’s mission to be like him.
How is it different to a career or a profession?
Your vocation is not the same as your career or profession. However, there is an overlap between a vocation and a profession.
A career or a profession is something that you have in order to support yourself and to contribute in some way to the good of society. Obviously you don’t need to believe in God to choose a career or a profession. When we talk about vocation, we are bringing God into our plans. We no longer just ask ourselves ‘what do I want to do with my life?’ but rather ‘What is God asking of me?” A vocation is not something that you can readily change like you can with a profession or a career.
For example, a person may work in a shop because he/she has what it takes to sell a product, to relate to the general public, to implement their training and to work as part of a team to accomplish daily tasks. That same person’s vocation may be to be a single person, a wife or a husband, to be a religious brother or sister, to be a deacon or priest.
The Call to Holiness
This distinction between a call to holiness and a call to a specific vocation – single person, married life, consecrated life or ordained ministry – is important.
The universal call to holiness is rooted in our baptism. It is a call to know, love and serve the Lord. It invites us into a deeper relationship with God. We should feel a growing desire to love God and to love our neighbour. We come to understand that there is meaning in our lives and a purpose for our existence. God has called us all to do some “definite purpose” for him. It is part of the adventure of our lives as friends of Christ, to work out what that particular purpose is to be. It can take a long time to work out what God’s plan for us is, so we should not worry if it is not blatantly obvious what it is, and therefore allow ourselves plenty of time pray and reflect about it might be.
The universal call to holiness is an ongoing conversion experience. It continually opens our eyes to a fresh awareness of God’s loving presence in our lives. It keeps inviting us to turn toward God by aiming to make God’s will, our own will.
A willingness to do God’s will is built on two pillars. We have to believe that God loves us more than we love ourselves and that God wants our happiness more than we want it. In other words, we have to believe that God knows more than we do about what will make us truly happy. We are to trust that God’s will for us is our only chance to find true and lasting happiness.
A brief outline of the four specific vocations
We live out the invitation ‘to be holy’ differently depending on which vocation we have chosen. The four specific vocations are: single life, married life, consecrated life or the ordained ministry. Each vocation is a call to follow Christ closely.
For someone who has chosen a single life, even though they have not formally taken the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, they are still choosing to make a personal commitment to put their freedom at the service of others in their work and their prayer. And in doing so, they strive to follow Christ in their daily lives.
For a married Christian couple, they follow Jesus by giving themselves to each other completely and without any reservation. They promise to love each other faithfully for the rest of their lives. They agree to share their joys and sorrows in whatever circumstances life presents to them. They express their love through their sexual union, which brings them together in the closest intimacy and opens them to the gift of new life in their children.
For someone who has chosen the consecrated life, their path of following Christ is through their vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. This often involves belonging to a religious order and living with others in community. They are called to live as Christ lived; to model their lives on the life of Jesus – who was chaste, poor and obedient – making their hearts more free for service and prayer. .
Priest or Deacon
For those who have chosen the ordained ministry, through sacramental ordination, they share in the priesthood of Christ in a special way. Their very beings are changed so that they can represent Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd for God’s people and Christ as the Head of the Church. They not only offer their own lives to the Father, as all Christians do, but they also stand before the Church and minister to the faithful as another Christ. Therefore, when they teach with the authority of the Church, Christ teaches; when they absolve sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation, then Christ forgives; when they offer the Sacrifice of the Mass then Christ offers that Sacrifice; when they love, support and care for God’s people entrusted to their care, then Christ is present with his people.
A commitment to love
The demands and lifestyle of each particular vocation is very different but there are some similarities between them. Each vocation is a commitment to love in a certain way. The object of every vocation is God. Lots of things like: self-fulfillment: making life better for people: building the Church: may be involved in a vocation but the main purpose of our vocation is to love Our Lord.
As St John Paul II wrote, “Love makes us seek what is good; love makes us better persons. It is love that prompts men and women to marry and form a family, to have children. It is love that prompts others to embrace the consecrated life or become priests.”
Each vocation challenges us to live our faith more deeply and to follow Christ more closely. Each vocation, if it is lived generously and faithfully, will involve times of lasting happiness and reward, but also occasions of sacrifice and suffering.
Finally, it is important not to compare the value of different vocations but to appreciate the value of each one and to work out which one is right for you.