From the Heart of the Shepherd
By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor
From the bulletin for the Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time (November 05, 2023)
Vocation: Making Sense of a Most Necessary Mystery
I notice that worthy entities of which we ought to be very “aware of” tend to be neglected in the months and weeks of “awareness” or “appreciation” we so often hear about now. For instance, a “Mortal Sin Awareness Month” might be helpful. And (at the risk of banalization), a “God appreciation decade” could be in order to stem the advance of secularism. This week, at least, is National Vocation Awareness Week. And that is certainly a good object of awareness.
We use the term “vocation” in many ways. Our very existence is a vocation, in the sense that we are called out of nothingness by the creative Word of God.
We can also speak of a human vocation written in our very nature: to know the truth, to love the good, to “subdue and cultivate” the earth through work, to “leave father and mother” and cling to a spouse, etc.
As Christians we have all received a supernatural calling that extends far beyond this life. Jesus has called us each out of darkness into His wonderful light. As a result, just as human nature orders one to marriage and to perfect his or her personality through parenthood, so our configuration with Christ in baptism orders us to the life of heaven and therefore to great holiness: “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect!” (Mt 5:48). Finally, that general Christian vocation to follow Christ in the life of holiness can receive a specification, or a call within the call. Here we would typically include embracing the consecrated life or a call to Holy Orders.
All of these, then, can be thought of as “vocations.” But in reality these are very different kinds of “callings.” The religious life, for example, is a call that one embraces primarily for his or her own sake, to oblige himself to follow Christ more closely, more radically, in poverty, chastity, and obedience. (Interesting to note that in St. Thomas Aquinas’ view, all Christians are “counseled” to embrace the religious state, even though few in fact are free to embrace it). In contrast, a call to Holy Orders comes through the Church to “those whom [Jesus] desires” for a special role of service (Mk 3:13). Holy Matrimony, in contrast again, is a call inscribed in everyone’s very nature (no need to wait for a sign from Heaven!), yet it gets caught up onto the supernatural plane thanks to a special sacrament. And some, like a St. Joan of Arc, have very particular “callings” that we don’t really have a name for!
Here, too, we should recognize that an individual can be “called” not with regard to office or state in life, but in terms of gifts received. As St. Paul says regarding Our Lord, “His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12).
Yikes! What, then, is my vocation, that I might be “aware” of it? I think the words of Jesus cut through all the complexity. “Follow me!” From the depths of our hearts, from the pages of the Gospels, from the Monstrance, through the Church, Jesus calls us to discipleship. That vocation “arrives” the moment Jesus gets into the boat of our lives and starts to give orders. If we prove obedient, there is no telling where it will lead, or what sacrifices it all might entail. Or rather: it will certainly lead in the depths of His Heart, through Calvary, to the heights of Heaven!
For this much is sure: following His call will always lead us to greater generosity in love, service, and self-sacrifice, as He increases and we decrease. This helps make sense of St. Paul’s rather brief “discernment advice”: “Every one should remain in the state in which he was called.” (1 Cor 7:20). When we begin to truly follow Christ and therefore radically surrender control of our lives into His hands, “we no longer live for ourselves, but for the one who died and was raised to life for us” (2 Cor 5:15). All that remains is the daily discernment of the “little” that the Holy Spirit is prompting us to do now… and the rest, the “greater things” will take care of themselves.