Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 26, 2010
Every person is called to a vocation in God's service
The current media storm over clergy sexual abuse is not likely to encourage those who might otherwise consider a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Few desire to follow a career path where those already on that path are stereotyped as sexual deviants.
But as we celebrate the World Day of Prayer for Vocations on April 25, we need to grasp that the biggest barrier to young people choosing the priesthood or religious life lies in our own self-understanding.
Catholics in the pews often have too narrow an understanding of vocations and too narrow an understanding of the Church.
Until we grasp that God calls everyone to a vocation, we can hardly expect that many will see themselves as called to the priesthood or religious life. As long as we restrict our view of the Church to the activities of priests, religious, Church employees and laity involved in their parish, we will not understand vocations.
In a 1989 document on the laity, Pope John Paul II wrote, "The fundamental objective of the formation of the lay faithful is an ever-clearer discovery of one's own vocation and the ever-greater willingness to live it so as to fulfill one's mission."
That is, all lay people have vocations - veterinarians, secretaries, oilfield workers and homemakers. Everyone is called to do God's work in his or her own milieu. We are called to be the Church in the workplace, in the family and in our recreation. All activities are sacred, or, rather, they can be sacred.
Our vocational discernment still has not entered the 20th century (let alone the 21st) when, for perhaps the first time in history, people's path in life was not cast by the situation into which they were born.
There is no shortage of vocations. There is a shortage of reflecting on the path of one's life as a call from God. We typically see a career as something that I want to do, rather than as a response to God's call. We are still burdened by secular notions of personal autonomy in career choice, rather than by a Christian understanding of communion.
Our high schools put career development in one box and religion class in another. Yet the great Christian work of the teenage years and early adulthood is to discern where and how God is calling you. Not whether God is calling, but where.
Once we see that God calls everyone by name, two things will begin to happen. First, we will see the Christian life of prayer, service and common worship as essential. Second, many hearts will be opened to a religious vocation as one place to which they might be called. The priesthood and religious life are not weird or boring.
Such a shift in understanding will not be easy or automatic. But it is essential to our efforts to proclaim the Gospel to all humanity.
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