Remember when I wrote that column about how the single life isn’t really a vocation, in the “Capital V” sense that the Church talks about? And remember how some of you were all grateful, and others were all mad and stuff?
Well, I’m not opening that can of worms again.
This time, I want to talk about vocation in a different sense – probably the way that some of you were seeing the initial discussion, which was what led to all of the being mad and stuff in the first place.
I want to talk about “small v” vocation, or what Catholic writers often call “personal vocation.”
What I call a “Capital V” vocation (the terminology is mine, not the Church’s) involves a total, permanent, formal, irrevocable gift of self. It falls into two categories – we give ourselves either to God in religious life or to a spouse in marriage. It’s not about what you do so much as to whom (or Whom) you’ve given yourself. We’re created for self-gift (see Gaudium et Spes 24, “. . . man can truly discover himself only in a sincere gift of himself”), which makes these self-donating “Capital V” vocations very important.
Personal vocation, on the other hand, falls into no category at all. It is, as the name, says, personal. It is based on the idea that God created you as an absolutely unique, unrepeatable human person. He gave you a unique, unrepeatable set of gifts, abilities and circumstances. And He has a plan for your life – a unique plan custom-tailored to those gifts, abilities and circumstances.
Personal vocation is about what God wants you to do with your life – not in the one-time “this is how I give myself way”, but in every moment of every day, living out His plan for you.
It happens on a lot of different levels. Primary, of course, is the vocation to holiness. We’re all called to that. But the way it happens is different for all of us. Some constants, of course – we pray, we receive graces from the Mass and the sacraments. But holiness is essentially a relationship with God, and no two relationships are exactly the same. He doesn’t love you the way He loves your sister or your best friend. Your relationship is unique.
And then there’s what we do with that relationship. It’s always struck me that it makes sense to follow God’s lead when making decisions about my life. After all, He loves me. Plus, He sees the very big picture that I can’t see. He knows the future. He knows what other people are doing, and what the results will be. He knows how my actions could fit together with other people’s actions to make the world a better place. He knows where I’m headed better than I do.
So personal vocation means following God’s plan for my life. For many of us, there may be an overarching “theme.” I am convinced, for instance, that it is my personal vocation to allow Him to use whatever gifts I have to teach them about Him, and in particular about the beauty of His plan for human sexuality. From that follows certain obligations – namely that I stay close to Him (the vocation to holiness), that I keep learning about Him, and that I “walk through” the doors He opens for me.
Personal vocation can change over time. Someone may be called to be a mother in one phase of her life, and then go on to follow God’s plan in a different way when her kids are grown. God’s plan can also call for more than one “vocation” at a time – being a parent and active in a particular ministry, for example.
I think the concept of personal vocation is very important for us to understand as single persons. We tend to live in the future. “When I get married I’ll do this. . .” Worse yet, we believe that God has somehow abandoned or forgotten us because we’re still single. But God hasn’t forgotten. He has a plan for my life, and He has a plan for your life. And that plan doesn’t start when (and if) you get married. It starts now. He knows you. He knows exactly where you are and how you got there. He is with you. And whatever crooked lines exist in your life, He has a plan to straighten them and form them into something beautiful.
So how do we find our personal vocation? First of all, through the pursuit of holiness. If we aren’t close to Him, if we aren’t following Him, we won’t be able to hear what He’s saying to us. Prayer, sacraments, scripture – all of these lead us closer to the God who loves us and knows what is best for us.
In that prayer, ask. Ask Him for guidance. Ask Him to show you what He wants you to do. Ask Him to open the doors He wants you to walk through.
Look at your natural interests, gifts and inclinations. I don’t mean your interest in beer can collecting, but your positive, constructive interests. God often speaks through the gifts He’s given us. And, on some level, He gives us an attraction to that to which we are called.
And once that door opens, walk all the way through it. Throw yourself into it. Use all of your smarts, your common sense and your willpower to do a really, really good job. Make it your gift to God.
John Paul II said “God with his call reaches the heart of each individual, and the Spirit, who abides deep within each disciple, gives himself to each Christian with different charisms and special signs. Each one, therefore, must be helped to embrace the gift entrusted to him as a completely unique person, and to hear the words which the Spirit of God personally address to him.” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, 1992)
Married, single – it doesn’t matter. You have a unique personal vocation, entrusted only to you. Find it and live it. You’ll be glad you did.