Saturday, July 29, 2006

Vocation and Freedom

“What is God calling me to do with my life?” is a question that should be on the mind of each one of us. Specifically, “To which vocation am I called by God?” should be given serious thought in addition to the general — and hopefully obvious—questions of “What good should I do and evil avoid?” and “What talents should I put to good use?”

On the July 13th edition of Catholic Answers Live Jimmy Akin responded to a question from Kevin from Portland, Oregon on this topic. Jimmy’s response was very insightful and I thought that it would be well-worth a second look.

K.: I’m trying to understand God’s call to a person and a vocation they have in their life. I searched through the Catechism so I definitely see a strong teaching of vocation of marriage and family life and people being called to that vocation. I also see obviously people being called to the vocation of the ministerial priesthood but I’m kind of curious, is there a call perhaps to anyone to the vocation of a single lay state?

J.A.: Without it being a consecrated lay state?

K.: That’s correct.

J.A.: Well, you sometimes hear folks use that language talking about a “vocation to being single.” So, they will kind of present there as being four vocations and they will say “vocations to the priesthood or the clergy, really. Vocations to the religious life. Vocations to the married life” and they add “vocations to the single life.” I’ve even heard folks pray for more vocations to all four of those things which I guess translates in to praying for there to be more people because everyone would have one of these four if those are the four.

However, the Church does not use “singleness” as a vocation. This is something that has just popped-up recently. Frankly, it’s been done as a way to try to make single folks feel included like they have a special vocation too that’s comparable to these others. As a single person myself I appreciate that, but this is not the language that the Church has traditionally used when talking about vocations.

A vocation, at least the way the term has been used historically, is a specific state of life that is recognized as specially consecrated in a way that the Church recognizes. So, obviously, if someone has Holy Orders that’s a specially-consecrated state. If someone is married and has that Sacrament, that is also a specially-consecrated state. If someone has taken religious vows of consecration, that’s also a consecrated state.

But being single and not having one of those forms of consecration is not itself consecrated. Singleness is not sacred in the way that those other things are sacred. What singleness would seem to be —at least to me— is a state of potentiality from which one can move into one of the other states and acquire a special consecration.

I don’t use “singleness” as a distinct vocation. It may be a permanent state that someone’s in. Someone may stay single but it itself is not a consecrated state and thus not a vocation in that sense.

K.: Would that mean perhaps if a person lives as a single lay person for their entire lives they have missed their vocation? Would that be a consequence of the single state?

J.A.: I don’t like to think about vocations in those terms. I know that sometimes folks do use that language about “missing your vocation” and that can make people feel awful bad. But the Church does not really use that language either in its documents.

There’s often an idea that people that people have absorbed that God has one vocation for somebody and they need to be on the lookout for it and if they miss it, they’re in trouble. And they can even view it as sinful if they “miss” their vocation. But that’s not the way the Church looks at vocations. Vocations are something that are freely offered and accepted. So, no one is under any obligation to accept a particular vocation. If you think that God may be showing you a vocation to the priesthood then that’s really great but you’re not obligated under that pain of sin to accept. It’s an offer that God makes for “Here’s how you can do some good.” But you choose whether or not you want to take up the offer. The offer is free in that you are not under that pain of sin to accept.

The same way, if you think that God is maybe leading you towards marriage. What God is doing is offering you a way to do good in the world through the married vocation but you’re not under the pain of sin to get married. And the same thing is true of the religious life.

Vocations really are opportunities that God gives us to do good through a specially-consecrated state but one must have human freedom in choosing to accept that vocation or not. No one can be compelled to accept the priesthood. Not one can be compelled to accept a marriage. No one can be compelled to accept religious life. Those are things that need to be accepted freely in order for the vocation to bear the kind of fruit that God wants it to.

So, I don’t think in terms of people “missing their vocation” because if you don’t pick up one opportunity or pick up an opportunity at the moment you may take an opportunity to embark on a vocation at a later time.

Photo: Young couple at a Vancouver beach © Nuno Silva
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Anonymous Theresa said...

This was a very interesting post. I think in life it can be difficult to determine what path to take, what ones true vocation is. Even when one determines their vocation, it can be difficult to follow through. While I agree with and realize the veracity of the statement that being single is not a “vocation” I can’t help but think that perhaps it is a bit harsh to define it as “a state of potentiality from which one can move into one of the other states and acquire a special consecration”. This leaves one (or at least me) with the impression that people are not fulfilled or complete if they are not a religious or married and are without a special consecration. To be in a state of potentiality means to have the potential to do something, implying there is something greater to be achieved. To permanently remain in that state of potentiality would then be tragic, for to have the potential to achieve something but not achieve it is indeed a tragedy. Perhaps those who have attempted to include the single state as a vocation were trying to accommodate the single adults in their parishes who already feel out of place and alone in churches filled with families.

6:58 PM  
Blogger pazdziernik said...

I agree. Single never-have-been-married adults are certainly a "neglected" and "overlooked" group in many dioceses and parishes. A similiar situation in regard to the topic of "vocation" is the almost exclusive tendency for dioceses and parishes to promote so-called "lay ministry" which is almost exclusively liturgically-oriented in some form rather than promote a lay person's (and a single person's vocation, in particular)in the world.

10:45 PM  

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