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May 16, 2011

Even in retirement, one is called to live out a vocation. As children move from home and a career comes to an end, one's vocation goes through a transition. But it doesn't end. God calls each of us, he calls us by name and he calls us for all of our lives.

Our culture, however, has little sense of this. Thoroughly secularized, it cannot conceive that our lives are about living a personal God-given mission. Instead, a career is about making money to support one's family and, preferably, enough to pursue what really counts - a life of aimless leisure with no responsibilities and lots of pleasure.

Western society has a vocations crisis, a crisis that affects a lot more than the number of priests and religious sisters and brothers.

Fourteen years ago, a conference on religious vocations in Europe produced a statement, New Vocations for a New Europe, that labelled European society an "anti-vocational culture" and said the dominant model of the human person is "man without vocation."

It went on to speak of the young as "nomads" of the spirit, who move about with little or no religious or cultural loyalties.

But really the young are only following what they see many of their elders modelling in retirement. Many people, to be sure, devote their golden years to the service of others, using the talents, skills and wisdom developed over decades to help volunteer organizations, their neighbours and their families.

Our cultural institutions, however, promote a self-serving notion of retirement, presenting it as a time of liberation for self-indulgence - a life of travelling, watching TV and pursuing one's private interests.

One's vocation does not end when the boss presents the golden watch. The new phase of living-out one's mission is likely less physically demanding. It likely involves more sharing of wisdom, more prayer and less making of money. There is also more opportunity for rest and relaxation. But life should still be of one piece with what has gone before retirement.

One of the keynotes sounded by the Second Vatican Council was the universal call to holiness. Through our lives of holiness, "a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society," the council said. Conversely, the inhumanity of our society is perpetrated less by big corporations and big government than by nomads of the spirit with no sense of personal vocation.

When we agonize over a lack of religious vocations in society, we need to look in the mirror. We need to ask what are we doing to promote those vocations.

Even more, we need to reflect on how we are living out our own vocations. The life of every Christian ought to reflect the cheerful acceptance of a life-long mission given by God, lived out in a spirit of service.