When you hear the word “vocation” what comes to mind?
In my last year of college, vocation seemed like a puzzle to be solved. I put a lot of pressure on myself to figure out “what should I do with my life.” I met with a spiritual director and weighed several options, agonizing over how I would know which was the right choice. Although my spiritual director and many other people in my life tried to tell me that I didn’t have to figure out the entirety of my life just yet, I wasn’t listening. I had a very narrow view of vocation as something to be discerned once and only once. I thought, if you’ve done it right, you stick with your choice for your whole life. I imagined that God had my life mapped out for me and there was a very definite direction I should take; I just needed to figure out which it was.
Now, 11 years later, I realize just how much God’s grace has been at work in me in so many ways—especially in broadening my understanding of vocation. I’ve come to really appreciate that discerning one’s vocation is not like completing a task at which we can excel or fail. It’s not a question with a single right answer.
In fact, God’s plan for us is none other than to be holy, and to do so in ways specific to us, “to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 19). The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church speaks of this universal and personal call to holiness by saying that “all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord – each in his or her own way – to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect” (Lumen Gentium, 11). Each and every one of us has this fundamental vocation, the one that underlies every other particular way in which God calls us to holiness. Holiness isn’t lived out in a single grand way possible for only a select few; “We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 14).
In Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis issues a powerful summons: “You too need to see the entirety of your life as a mission” (GE, 23). With this broader view of vocation, I can more readily recognize the multitude of ways in which God has drawn me to himself throughout the course of my life. I can discern how I am being called to holiness in this moment and reflect on how my response in the here and now is part of my greater life’s mission.
Now I understand vocation as more than a single call. It is, rather, living our lives in a constant awareness of and responsiveness to the promptings of the Lord, who draws us to himself. Vocation is not inward looking; it draws us outward to God and neighbor. This redirected gaze allows us to recognize and receive with gratitude the gifts we are given so that we can more freely and truly make a gift of ourselves. Such self-emptying love is what it means to be Christ-like, to be holy. It forces us to reframe our questions. Instead of asking, “What do I want to be?” or “What do I want to do with my life?” (as I kept asking myself in college), we can prayerfully discern “How is God calling me to make a gift of myself?” This certainly applies to my state in life, whether I am called to give of myself in marriage or religious life. But I also respond to this call to self-gift by carrying out my work with integrity and skill in the service of my brothers and sisters, by patiently teaching my little ones how to follow Jesus, by refusing to gossip, and by saying a kind word to the person I encounter on the street (to list a few examples from Gaudete et Exsultate 14- 16).
My life’s journey has taken a lot more turns than I could have anticipated those many years ago. Yet the Lord has made use of each step, big and small, to draw me ever closer to himself.
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As the pandemic eases in the United States and much begins to reopen, we have the opportunity to reflect on where we have been as Church and what we are called to do. Many are still suffering around the world and in the U.S. from the effects of the pandemic. This moment is a unique one to revive faith and rekindle charity as apostles of Christ. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, reminds us:
“The holy people of God shares also in Christ's prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to his name” (12).
We are co-responsible as the baptized to witness Christ in what we say and do. If we say that we are believers in Jesus Christ, then we need to show our faith by what we do for others. Seems easy. It is not, as we know. We cannot go about it alone. We need the grace provided by Christ, particularly in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. This is why livestreams of Mass are not enough. We need to receive Christ in the midst of the community of faith, the Church, and then strengthened by him and the community, we can go forth in his name, doing his mission.
What an amazing responsibility we have! To live it well, we must be living witnesses of Christ. Pope Francis invites us, in line with the exhortation of many saints, to take it a step further:
“Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God. Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Holiness does not make you less human, since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace. For in the words of León Bloy, when all is said and done, ‘the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint’” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 34).
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
A few weeks ago my first niece was born. Needless to say, the pride of being an aunt flooded me and the joy of this news was shared with every person I spoke to. In these conversations I had one of those “you know you are a Catholic when” moments. The question that persistently followed “What is her name?” was “When is she going to be baptized?” This got me to think, “What’s the big deal?” And then the Holy Spirit hit me with, “PRIEST, PROPHET and KING!”
In infant baptism, we are not only cleansed of original sin and saved from “eternal damnation.” We are chosen and claimed. When immersed into the water with the Trinitarian rite – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – baptism is signifying and actually bringing about “death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration to the Paschal mystery of Christ” (CCC 1239).
But our rite doesn’t end there. As. Fr. Kevin Nadolski, OSFS, puts it, “we are then slathered in Jesus gel and given a crown of royalty.” In being anointed with Sacred Chrism, we are chosen by God, claimed by Christ and through the Holy Spirit are named priest, prophet and king (CCC 1241).
St. Francis de Sales writes, “Be who you are, and be that well.” We, as baptized, are priests. We are prophets. We are royalty. The call as baptized disciples is to live these attributes and to live them well. Lumen Gentium explains that by our priestly duty we are called to “consecrate the world itself to God” (LG 34) through our works, prayers, activities, and daily responsibilities. It explains that as prophets we are to announce Jesus Christ by life and word and be witnesses to “life springing forth from faith (LG 35).” And lastly, that as His disciples we are named as His kings so that we too “might be constituted in royal freedom and that by true penance and a holy life [we] might conquer the reign of sin in [ourselves]” (LG 36).
This winter, my niece will join us in our royal dignity and become a priest, prophet and king! At that time I will begin to tell her, “Be who you are, and be that well,” and will continue to say that as she grows. The challenging part will be looking at myself as a Baptized Catholic and answering the question, “Am I being who I am – priest, prophet and king – and being that well?”
Pam Tremblay is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center.