On this Vocation Sunday (often also called Good Shepherd Sunday, because of today’s Gospel reading at Mass – John 10:11-18) we want to ask a very simple question: Are you living your vocation?
Of course, this isn’t just a single question – it invites a whole slew of other questions, especially if we find ourselves in the position of saying – well, come to think of it – No!
Go back to the beginning of the whole thing: when we speak about vocation we are speaking about the unique and utterly individual call which God has prepared for each one of us to live with the greatest integrity, here and now, as his cherished sons and daughters (by the way, the 2nd reading at Mass tomorrow is the beginning of chapter three of the First Letter of St John: Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children, and that is what we are…. I don’t think, if we really read and heard that extraordinary word of God we would really need to hear or read anything else our whole lives through!). This is vocation – not the “what I do”, but the “who I am”.
If your answer to the question, Are you living your vocation?, is, Yes, I am, great – keep going, keep listening, keep responding with your whole mind and soul and heart and strength.
If the answer to the question, Are you living your vocation?, is, Well, now you come to ask me, I’m not sure that I am, and in fact, the plain answer is no – well, perhaps today is a good day, a vocation day, to start asking a few other questions.
If you’re not living out a vocation, but rather living an occupation or a profession, something which brings immense satisfaction but not ultimate fulfillment, some questions need to be asked. And we remind ourselves, in the first instance, that this will resonate most with those of us who are happy to claim a God-context for these questions. In other words, I already have a desire – it doesn’t need to be an all consuming fire at this stage, just a desire – to find out God’s will in my life, and begin to realise it in a concrete, flesh and blood, lived way.
So, next question after the honest admission that I am not yet living out vocation:
Do you have some sense of what your vocation might be?
Now, that’s very direct. The reason for being direct is that most of us do already. The idea has been knocking about in our heads and hearts for a while, but we’ve been content to sideline it, push it back (where it belongs? – hardly!), and be happy to become distracted by something else. But at some stage someone needs to say to us: hold on a minute, you keep mentioning this thing, or you’ve mentioned it a few times, so why don’t you do something about it?
Or, better, we need to ask ourselves: why am I not doing something about this question, itch, tickle, idea, notion, dream, fantasy, attraction, woman, man, God, service …?
Undoubtedly, because it will mean change for us; leaving something (important?) behind; taking risk when we thought we had everything in place to ensure comfort and happiness; and last but not least, what if I fail at this?
Unfortunately, our world and society and upbringing have programmed us to be people who do everything under the constant gaze of either success or failure. Probably because others have both pointed out and critiqued our failures and weaknesses, or have been effusive in praise of our success. Neither criticism nor praise is out of place: they have their places, and their functions, but we have to learn that we don’t and can’t live or die by them.
So, forget the business about how will I look if this goes pear-shaped and I fail. When your Sat-Nav takes you up a wrong turning and you have to “recalibrate”, or you confuse your Google maps by suddenly remembering you know a better, more scenic route, and the Voice gets annoyed and tries to recalibrate you, you end up getting to the place you wanted to get to – you just do it in a slightly less orthodox manner.
The next question: what’s the thing that has been eating me. The marriage question is probably the most straightforward: ask her/him to marry you. People still do that – it’s not just a matter of munching on the Cornflakes and mentioning, Fancy getting hitched? – Let me get my toast in first. Asking someone to marry you is still a moment of immense importance, joy, surprise, horror (not this last). It takes planning, timing, humility.
The others are like marriage.
I want to be a priest, and I’ve always felt it. The possibility of accompanying people on their search for God, and being drawn in to their lives in all their myriad ways and joys and sorrows, of reaching out to those who lost the Church and whom the Church has lost, of praying with them, for them, about them, offering sacrifice, being sacrifice, sanctifying in sacramental ways, breaking the Word, for myself and for them…. I have to do something about that.
I want to be a religious brother or sister. The more I think of it, I want to find out what this business about poverty is really about. People are poor, everywhere, in front of my nose, and I’m richer than most – when did I actually really need something that made a difference to my life, how I live, that I am alive? What’s obedience? How does it lead to greater freedom? Celibacy and chastity do sound tough, and they will be tough – I’ve had sexual partners, casual sex, a couple of long term relationships, I’m gay … – can I learn that I can live this life of chastity in a fruitful way, in a life-giving way? But I really want to live in a community with others, searching together, praying together, planning together, seeking God’s kingdom together. I have to do something about that.
I want to be a monk or a nun. People will think I’m nuts if I enter a monastery to live a life of near silence, frugality and simplicity, getting up at the screech of dawn (before it, actually!), working in a way which I might never have dreamed of…. But I want to pray, to be more silent, to find a greater simplicity in what I do and how I live, because I know I’ll find it easier to meet God in those moments. You know, in the noise and bustle and cynicism and cruelty of the world that I know I can’t meet him – I need to be in some place else, quieter, slower, more still. I have to do something about this.
Those are the next questions. And they do move us to that point – and we must bring ourselves to the moment when we admit it – where we realise that we’ve been putting off this work again and again. Nobody is going to ask the question for me nor are they going to give the answer. Only I can do that.
I said at the beginning that all vocations are like marriage. Well, they are, from one very important point of view. In that moment when I give myself to another and I ask them if they will marry me and they say yes and my whole being lights up… This is my speaking my vocation to God.
I say to God, when I make that decision to pursue vocation: will you marry me? And God blurts out: Yes! I will! What took you so long? I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting, all this time, and at last you’ve done this thing. Yes, I’ll marry you.
You see, this is the real point – I’m asking God to marry me, not the other way round. He’s the one waiting, I’m the one delaying.
(Some of you will say: hold on a minute, in a marriage two people marry each other. That’s right, they do: they give the sacrament to one another, and become the sacrament. They become the grace which is God-Present. Otherwise it’s just a human union, good, but not sacramental.)
And the marriage is exclusive (God is always himself alone revealing himself again and again in those whom we serve and in how we serve them), and indissoluble (it’s tough going at times, but he is faithful absolutely and ask the same from me, even if I fall away and have to return to fidelity to him), and generative (he brings life through my living the integrity of my life), and unitive (I becoming one with him, by becoming one with Christ in the gifts of the Spirit that he continually gives me).
Today is Vocation Sunday. If you are not already living your vocation, today is the day to say: today let me begin this process in which I can come fully alive with the life that Christ gives me, living the call which the Father gives me, living the gifts which the Spirit gives me.
What are you waiting for? There is nothing more important for a Christian to do today.
-Part of our series on Vocation-