Me . . . a Vocation?
by Columkille Regan, C.P
I am sure that there isn't a priest or religious who hasn't heard that remark. It is voiced in a variety of ways: Why me? How do I know? What signs are there? Am I too old? What should I do?
The individual is usually talking about a vocation to the priesthood, to the sisterhood, or to the brotherhood. The word vocation comes from the Latin word 'vocare' (to call). Unfortunately, we narrow down the idea of a person having a vocation to the above three callings.
But the idea of vocation is at the very heart of Christian spirituality. We believe God is concerned about us and interacts with us. Scripture is full of God calling or inviting men and women to do something. Jesus walked by the seaside and called the fishermen to be his disciples. They received a vocation and followed Jesus.
All Christians, by their Baptism, have been called to follow Jesus, imitate him and witness to his life.
A More Specific Call
The question raised at the top of this article refers to a more specific type of calling within the Christian vocation. It is a call to follow Jesus in his life and work.
The call doesn't come in thunder and lightning. God collaborates with other humans to convey his message. A teacher, a priest, befriends a young person. Or, she/he is seen as a model that one would like to imitate. The person being called feels an uneasiness, a deep stirring in one's soul to break out of the mold to do something different. God's call is heard as a mysterious attraction to follow another path in life. For St. Therese, it was seeing the joy of her sisters in Carmel.
Underlying all this hidden movement of the heart is the growing awareness of God in a person's life and the desire to respond. At the beginning, the relationship with God may be quite superficial. But gradually the person deepens his/her awareness of God and God's love for us. And when all is said and done, it is the only reason for responding to the call of come and follow me.
There are three elements in a true vocation: 1) God's call; 2) the human response; and 3) the recognition of the call by diocesan or religious superiors. Each of these these three elements has to be examined and come together.
We believe that God intervenes in human affairs. In this matter of a vocation, God stirs up a person's heart to follow Jesus in a very specific way. As mentioned above, it may be the example of a priest or religious ó that awareness of some need that should be met ó the desire to do something different with one's life, etc. Or it may be as undramatic as hearing a sermon in church, then deciding to change one's life and become a priest or religious.
The Human Response
God respects our free will. The invitation is just that: an invitation. Many people have looked at the possibility of being a priest or religious. But when the thought won't go away, when the idea keeps recurring, then the person begins to look at the idea seriously. A process of discerning begins with questioning, examining, discussing, trying to decide: Is God calling me to this? Do I have a vocation? Is this the crossroad in my journey? To be able to make an informed decision, such a person needs help. A spiritual director is usually needed to walk with the individual, to recognize the signs that this stirring is coming from God. Prayer and mutual discernment are needed to insure that a mature decision is being made.
Recognition of the Call
After a person has decided that she/he is truly being called by God, application must be made to the diocese or religious community. After all, the decision is a mutual one. The request is considered. A series of tests and interviews follows to see if a vocation is truly present. If the proper church authorities approve, then the applicant has passed a significant guidepost. The call to follow the Lord has been answered and approved. The person begins to live out his/her call to be a priest and/or religious.
One Last Thing
In conclusion, one last thing has to be mentioned. And it is the most important. Following God's call is a process of falling in love. As we being to realize the tremendous love God has for us, our hearts are stirred to respond to that love. Life is a deepening of that personal relationship with God.
There is work involved in ministry. There are things to do. But without
that prayerful relationship with the God who called us, work can get
boring, and the life we lead, sterile.
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