On Vocations

I saw this piece skeptical of “vocational discernment” for the laity. I think Amy Welborn is picking at the peripherals on the topic. I think it needs more of a Vatican II attitude, if not spirit. But you readers would expect I’d say that.

I have never been a fan of emphasizing “vocation” for the laity. My dissent is rooted in two places, I think.

First, quite honestly, my personality type, which is all about preparing, but averse to planning. Some might call this “reactive,” I prefer to think of it as responding to the Spirit.

Better, yes?

No. Not really.

I think that every Christian has a foundational vocation. What is that? Responding to the Lord’s Gospel mandata. What are those? John 13, certainly, washing one another’s feet in service. Matthew 28 and Mark 16, preaching to the world, if not all creation. Matthew 25:31ff, doing to the least of one’s brothers and sisters.

I would expect a catechist to have a bias toward learning, reading, preparing, or planning. Those things are important, but I see the best vehicle for vocation is apprenticeship and being a companion to others.

I hesitate to comment on a book I’ve not read, but Ms Welborn cites Christopher Lane:

The reformers’ new vision of the choice of a state of life was marked by four characteristics:

  • urgency (the realization that one’s soul was at stake),
  • inclusiveness (the belief that everyone, including lay people, was called by God),
  • method (the use of proven discernment practices),
  • and liberty (the belief that this choice must be free from coercion, especially by parents). 

There’s nothing one can do about the first point. One’s soul is in the hands of God. The speed of responding, the obedience or adherence–nothing a human being can do nudges the agency of God in salvation.

Inclusiveness is a quality of discernment in the sense that baptism imparts a character that includes vocation as a feature of the system.

As I wrote above, method for vocation and its discernment is primarily one of a mentor. Godparents are the mentors designated by church office, and parents certainly, as heads of the domestic church.

It should go without saying that persons are not to be coerced into baptism, or any subsequent discernment about life’s direction.

The essay is saved by wisdom from Francis de Sales, who counsels (as one might expect) going easy on oneself. Shifts in direction may well produce good fruit. And even bad choices or selfish ones might bring an onset of holiness.

Moving forward, I think it’s wholly appropriate to recognize vocation as foundational to Baptism. Even before we talk about marriage, religious life, or priesthood. The danger is that getting ordained or taking vows becomes a human expression of vocation in the sense a person with good mechanical skills might claim a vocation to be a carpenter, or a healer might claim a vocation as a nurse or doctor. Being a spouse, priest, doctor, engineer, etc., are fine things. But they don’t guarantee the person has a vocation in the sense of a calling from God.

I’ve known clergy who simply lived out a “personal” calling, a vocation that seemed to have little to do with other people, or even God, but more to do about themselves. I’ve also known lay people who had a clear and vibrant ministry which was evident as a “calling” for others. Even if not explicitly Christian, such work can indeed be a vocation from God.

We do prospective seminarians, postulants, and engaged persons a disservice by not checking in with their faith journey as a baptized person. How do they see themselves aligned with the mandata of Jesus? How do they live for others? How will new horizons of matrimony, orders, vowed life, and even medicine, law, science, labor, and parenting align with a vocation, a true calling that focuses not so much on a personal holiness, but helping to guide others into it?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to On Vocations

  1. Liam says:

    Part of this is the Catholic habit (pun intended) of equivocally conflating (1) “vocation” with (2) “vocation to a particular state of life” – those having been distilled into Orders, vowed religious life, and Matrimony and its fruits, and the running assumption being that God offers and supplies what used to be called the “grace of state” for each. Intercessions and programs are largely devoted to (2); your comments focus more deeply/broadly on (1). Someone such as me has not fit into (2), but (1) always applies.

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