Do I have a Vocation?
“God calls all the souls he has created to love him with their whole being, here and thereafter, which means that he calls all of them to holiness, to perfection, to a close following of him and obedience to his will. But he does not ask all souls to show their love by the same works, to climb to heaven by the same ladder, to achieve goodness in the same way. What sort of work, then, must I do? Which is my road to heaven? In what kind of life am I to sanctify myself?” Blessed Charles de Foucauld
Created to share God’s love. The fundamental vocation of every human being is to love. This is not obvious to everyone today. Many people believe that human life is just an accident, a chance product of evolution, a meaningless event in a vast mechanical universe. It is certainly true that our lives have been shaped by many different forces, but there is a much deeper truth that we can discover through faith: Every single human being has been created by God out of love. He made us so that we could know his love, and share that love with others, and delight in that love forever in the glory of heaven. So whatever you feel about your own worth – never doubt that your life has a meaning. God loves you and cares for you. You are precious to him and he has a purpose for your life, even if that does not seem very clear to you.
What is a vocation? The word ‘vocation’ comes from the Latin word that means ‘calling’. For the Christian a vocation is not just something that God calls us to do, it is also the person God calls us to be. When Jesus called his first disciples by the Lake of Galilee it wasn’t just so that they could help him in his work, it was so that their lives could be transformed through his friendship and love. We have been called to follow Christ, the Son of God, the eternal Word of the Father, who came to save us and to lead us back to heaven with him. He has sent his Holy Spirit so that we can share in his divine life even now, and express that life by trying to love him and to love our neighbour. The Christian vocation is a call to share in the life of the Most Holy Trinity.
Vocation as a call to holiness. One way of expressing this is to say that the fundamental human vocation is the call to holiness, the call to be a saint. The saints are not just heroic people who live in history books. They are ordinary Christians who have tried to live their faith without holding anything back – to love God with their whole hearts, to love those around them without counting the cost, to work at what is worthwhile with dedication and purpose, to be people of joy and kindness and prayerfulness. All of us are called to be saints – however weak or sinful we feel. This is not so much a command as a promise that God makes: he promises us, by giving us his Holy Spirit, that he will help us to find our true happiness in following him, and that he will give us whatever we need for the journey.
You already have a vocation. This vocation to holiness is already a part of your life, given to you at your baptism, and it is so important to remember that. Whatever situation you are in now, however unsatisfactory it seems, you already have a vocation. You might be working, studying, travelling, unemployed, or caring for someone at home; you might be very content, or utterly miserable; full of hope, or close to despair. Whatever your situation, you can trust that God is with you, and that he calls you to be holy in this very situation. Things may well change – and perhaps they need to. But at this moment you must have the confidence to believe that even now there is a meaning and a purpose to your life; and that you can begin to fulfil that by everyday acts of love and kindness and patience.
Living well in the present. This call to live well in the present is the ‘Little Way’ recommended by St Thérèse of Lisieux – the importance of simply doing your duty, saying your prayers, loving your neighbour, bearing your sufferings; and doing all this with a generous and loving heart. It is not very dramatic, but it is the secret of holiness, and it reminds us that your first and fundamental vocation is not something to be discovered in the future – it is living the Christian life in the here and now. Perhaps this is all God wants of you for the moment. You must avoid the temptation of thinking that your Christian life can only properly begin in the future, when everything is crystal clear. And if you do not discover a more concrete vocation, or if you are to die young, then you should not feel that you have wasted your life, or that your life is unfinished or unfulfilled.
Vocation as a call to a concrete ‘state of life’. Christ has always called some people to follow him in concrete ways, by giving them a more specific vocation. In previous generations, the word ‘vocation’ would only have been used to describe the lives of priests and religious – because these people had in some sense been called ‘away’ from an ordinary life to a life of celibacy and service in the Church. But today the word ‘vocation’ is rightly used also of marriage, permanent diaconate, consecrated life, and some forms of single life – because each of these is a wholehearted commitment that we make in response to an invitation from the Lord. These concrete vocations are also known as ‘states of life’, because we make a lifelong commitment to living our Christian faith in a particular context. This lifelong commitment becomes the place in which we live out our fundamental vocation to holiness. God calls us all to be saints; and sometimes he calls us to be saints in a particular way – as husbands or wives, as priests or deacons or consecrated persons.
Vocation as a call to be the unique person you are made to be. There is yet another level to ‘vocation’. Each saint is unique, and you are called to be holy not just in a general way, but in the particular way that God has made you to be. God created you as a unique individual, and calls you by a name that no-one else has been given. You reflect Christ’s love and show something of his face in a way that no-one else can. This is your ‘personal’ vocation – the call to be the person you are meant to be. The more you discover who you are, and the more you discover what lies deepest in your heart, the more you will be able to discern what God’s will is for you and what direction he wants you to take in life. Your lifelong vocational commitments and the particular path of holiness that you are called to follow will inevitably grow out of the person God created you to be.
Sally, member of a Focolare community:
Discovering my vocation was part of a life changing experience. I am from Northern Ireland and growing up in Belfast I was no stranger to the harsher side of life. Having seen injustice and cruelty on all sides in that senseless conflict, at the age of 17, I decided that not only politicians but even God had forsaken Belfast. What changed everything for me was when, through my contact with the Focolare Movement, I saw Christians who were united. They not only spoke about the revolutionary power of the Gospel to change people and situations but they made it the foundation of their everyday life. That in turn gave me the strength to change my life and to begin to make a difference to the situation around me. I realised that when I was with them I was at home. I felt a deep peace. I was completely free. When I was with them, I was the best of myself. I knew then I wanted to live like this 24/7. It is a choice I have never regretted.
Fr Digby, diocesan priest:
Somehow I just knew what I had to do to be true to myself. And the strong pull within me was to apply for the priesthood. I can resonate strongly with both why the word ‘vocation’ is used in this way and also with how those in the scriptures who were called by God also had a certain fear about saying yes – the ‘Hound of heaven’ experience perhaps. Looking back to my teens when this experience was first felt, I feel blessed that there was this clarity – it’s never left me in 45 years. The challenge has been to live it out in a way that is alive and authentic, starting afresh every day. Sometimes I say to people who are considering major life decisions “I made the ‘mistake’ of continuing to pray – that way I kept hearing the call!” If I hadn’t kept up the prayer maybe I would have blocked out what the Lord really wanted, but I can’t see how I’d have been happy. There is a phrase you hear: ‘In Your will is our peace’.