Generally, when we speak of ‘vocation’ as such we are speaking about a call to a way of life which is definitive for us; which expresses myself in a very deep way; which, in itself, carries a meaning that sums me up. So, vocation is not necessarily linked to ‘job’ or ‘employment’. Both of these can be rather temporary and can be changed according to circumstances and personal development and growth. It’s probably true to say that, given the mobility associated with life today, for many there is no need to see a job or place of employment as the only choice I make for life, that it acquires, once made, a degree of permanency. While this was almost certainly the case two and more generations ago, it does not hold good as a type of social model lived today. More often than not, type of employment, place of employment, length of employment are simply more variables in my life. When the choice of things on offer is relatively wide in life then we have a tendency to make the most of that width, and so change more frequently. And the same can be said about where we live, and our partners also – who we live with, and how long we live with them!
Identifying vocation is something very different to the choices associated with employment. When I identify a vocation I identify an aspect of myself which, ultimately, touches every other aspect of my life, colouring it, flavouring it, perhaps giving it its true meaning, becoming a key which interprets what I do and who I am. Vocation, therefore, is a deeply personal part of myself, and is essentially expressive of me alone. It might reasonably be said that vocation is intimately linked to identity.
This is important because a great deal of conversations which are conducted today, and a great many philosophies and propositions which go about in the popular debate, are concerned with the quest for personal identity – ‘Who am I?’ seems to be more important than ever today, even though it has been a question which has occupied human thought and debate for as long as we have been able to formulate it. And along with it the questions ‘Where do I belong?’, and ‘How do I belong?’ help complete a deeply challenging matrix which, altogether, might very well be seen as the fundamental building blocks leading to self-knowledge. Vocation tends to want to answer these questions and especially the first. When we ask the question about vocation we ask, fundamentally, ‘Who am I?’, not, ‘What do I do?’, even though the latter may, in some way, be embraced by the former without exhausting it.
Essentially, when many of us speak about ‘vocation’ we do so with a vague sense that it must have a religious quality – a call to live in some particular way or with some special task within a church setting. This specifies the notion of choice around vocation, and places it within a readily identifiable context. So, we can’t speak adequately about vocation, here, unless we are also speaking about some kind of faith context or the context of religious formation. Therefore, vocation for us is more than simply a ‘way of life’ – it must be a way of life lived in the awareness that it comes from a source other than myself. And that that source is, ultimately, God.
More and more today we find that people, unless they have been brought up in a reasonably vibrant faith environment and have taken on, in a reasonably mature way, the practice of faith, are often ‘faith illiterate’. Even those who have, in the early part of their life, enjoyed a sacramental formation and certain degree of education, either in the home, or in school, or through the involvement of the parish, in things religious, lose the ability to articulate precisely what they believe. They simply do not have a language which expresses faith and practice. It might be said that, today more than ever, people lack a vocabulary which adequately expresses matters and experience of faith. This in itself is a complex debate and reality – and one which, we might say, the Church herself doesn’t seem to be able adequately to address. But it does affect how we are able to speak about and discern vocation in a personal, God and Church-oriented way
In this sense we can see why the so-called new evangelisation (a phrase first employed by John Paul II) is an important task for the Church in the 21st century – a whole generation, and more, lacks a fundamental rooting in faith matters. If we are to enter into a discussion around vocation – or indeed around any significant aspect of Church life and teaching and practice, and how that is expressed in the Church’s encounter with secular society – which leads towards discerning vocation and so, one might say, a new Pentecost in the Church in which the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit are poured out again in the lives of the baptised in service – specific service which is the outliving of baptism – then we have to begin by asking how do I reclaim – or deeper even, rediscover – a faith life which is not merely the fulfilling of obligation but dynamic and life-giving. A faith life in itself must lead to a growth in the person’s awareness of themselves as Chistian and therefore Christ-like. Essentially, all vocation within the Church must lead to, or at least have as its goal, conscious or unconscious, conformity to Christ.
-Part of our ‘Vocation’ series-