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What is a vocation?

September 17, 2020

What is a vocation?

By Father Kevin Mannara, CSB

You formed my inmost being;
You knit me in my mother’s womb.
I praise You, because I am wonderfully made;
wonderful are Your works!
My very self You know. (Ps. 139: 13-14)

Thomas Merton, the mystic, author, and Trappist monk said, “Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach, but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice out there calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice in here calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”

Simply put, our vocation is being our deepest, truest self that God has called us to be from the moment we began to exist, and that God continues to create us to be across our lives.

Our vocations bring our lives a sense of joy, peace, and perhaps most of all, a sense of meaning. Through our vocations we uncover our life’s purpose. Our vocations are what gets us out of bed each morning and fill our lives with love. A generous love. A life-giving love. God’s love.

I hear many young people say, “I want to be happy in life.” And indeed, that is an admirable goal. Our vocation directs us past a feeling of happiness, to the source of happiness itself. The great 20th century author C. S. Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity, “God cannot give us a peace and happiness apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” So when people express their desire for happiness in life, that goal is gracefully wound together with living one’s vocation. Happiness comes from being the person God is loving us into being.

When I was a boy, people often asked me what I want to be when I grow up. A vocation might better be understood as what does God want me to be as I grow up?

Everyone has a vocation, a “calling” from God. The adventure of a lifetime is to uncover, nurture, develop, and live that vocation!

Our Christian vocation grows out of our baptismal calling to be members of the Body of Christ. Each of us is somehow called and gifted to serve Christ and his mission, which we call the Church. For some people that is married life and family, for others it may be single life. For still others it may be a life of service through religious life and/or priesthood. These are all states in life.

How we are gifted is mysterious, a grace filled “knitting together” of our talents, interests, and passions. Sometimes we are surprised to discover that who we want to be does not match up with the graces we have received. We want one thing, but it seems God is calling us in another direction. As God tells the prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” (Isaiah 55:8) Lasting joy comes when, through prayer and discernment, our thoughts and ways are harmonious with God’s. We may well discover God had something in store for us even more fulfilling than what we first wanted for ourselves.

Having grown up in a family, being a spouse and parent is the “default setting” for most people. We expect to grow into adulthood and be much like the adults we knew when we were growing up. Marriage and parenthood are beautiful ways to spend one’s life, but for some people there is an attraction to something else that involves a more intentional and direct way of living out our baptism. As we get to know some priests and religious, we may be curious about how they live. We may even ask ourselves: might God be calling me to live that way?

It is important to recognize that one vocation is not better or worse than another. What matters is that we are being true to the person God is calling us to be.

Within the vocations of married and single life, priesthood and religious life, there are many vocations within a vocation. For example, the fields of education, health care, and public service offer vocations within vocations. They are ways God calls us to serve others within our states in life. Sometimes our occupations may feel less like a calling, and more a way to provide for life’s necessities. A consistent question to ask ourselves is how is what I am doing serving God through Christ, either directly or indirectly?

Perhaps we experience a tug toward or deep attraction to the Eucharist. Perhaps we are drawn to the idea of community life, having the fraternal support of others, committed to Christ and to each other, to carry out a specific dimension of the Church’s mission. Perhaps we have an awareness that we can better serve Christ in community, and achieve more for Christ together than we could separately. Perhaps it’s even more simple than that: we know a religious community and like its members. If one has a vocation to religious (consecrated) life, it takes courage and prayer to foster it. Being in community with others in service of Christ and his mission can be a beautiful and fulfilling way to spend one’s life!

You have made us for Yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You. (St. Augustine)

However it happens that God stirs your heart, look there for your vocation. Then you will indeed be on the adventure of your lifetime!


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