Over the past two weeks I have been writing about the question, “What Is Your Mission?” This is based on a series of articles from a booklet from the Villanova University Institute for Teaching and Learning entitled Teaching With Augustine: A Vital Conversation. According to the Villanova University Institute for Teaching and Learning (and just in case you were not aware of it), the University of Villanova is “a Catholic and Augustinian institution. It seeks to reflect ‘the spirit of Augustine’ in all things. But what exactly is this ‘spirit?
Last week I introduced you to Richard Bolles – a speaker, consultant and author of What Color Is Your Parachute? He refers to as “finding your mission in life” as finding your “spiritual road.” Your spiritual “road” actually has a number of ”pathways.” For example, one has to make the distinction between a “job,” a “career,” a “profession,” a “calling” and a “vocation.” When we are younger, we often get “a job.” This is “a static task, done with some regularity, for compensation. Often these provide some short-term money so that we can cover particular expenses such as college tuition, hobbies or other infrastructure items such as a car and insurance. Typically, after university studies, people look to develop “a career.” Derived from the Latin word carraria (meaning “a road”) this commonly refers to a series of jobs, usually involving increased complexity and responsibility in a particular industry. The phrase, a “profession” is typically attached to certain jobs or careers associated with advanced education, specialized skills higher socio-economic status and certification by an official agency or the state. Doctors and lawyers are frequently described as participating in a “profession.”
But what about a “calling?” And what is a “vocation?” What are they? What are the implications for people who claim them? What responsibilities are inherent with callings and vocations?
In Scholarship and Christian Faith, Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt distinguish vocation (from the Latin vocatio meaning a call or a summons) from career or profession or others pathways. They suggest that “what makes something a vocation is not the special activity but the way the activity is both understood in larger context and carried out in actual practice.” A vocation, they contend, includes “goals that transcend any one person’s ability to achieve.” In Vocation, Discerning Our Calling In Life, author Douglas Schuurman writes that a vocation involves “skilled activity undertaken in a thoughtful, responsible and creative manner with the aim of serving social needs, providing personal fulfillment and contributing to a better world.” That’s certainly a lot more than just making money to buy stuff.
Vocations are related to the idea of a “calling” and has a direct connection with Christian faith. For someone to have “a call,” one has to posit “a caller.” In connection with our faith, we believe that we are not merely cosmic accidents – time + chance + matter. We believe that we are created on purpose – for a purpose. Therefore, “God’s initiative precedes not only our birth, but also all of our plans and projects,” writes Edward Hahnenberg in Awakening Vocation: A Theology of Christian Call. He goes further to say “that our individual journey has transcendent goals.” We are called “to lead a life worthy of God, who calls [us] into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). We are called “to fellowship with Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:9) and “to love one another” as He has loved us (John 13:34).”
Over the past several years, I have had fascinating personal conversations about the idea of vocations with Sherry Weddell (Co-Founder and Director of Catherine of Siena Institute), Katherine Coolidge (Called and Gifted Coordinator) and Dominican Father Michael Sweeney, O.P. (Co-Founder and Director of Catherine of Siena Institute). When people hear the word, “vocation” they typically think priest, deacon, religious sister or nun. There are actually three types of vocations in the Catholic Church. The first is the Universal Call to Holiness. This vocation has nothing to do with ordination or religious consecration but is squarely based in the fact that you are baptized (and “Confirmed”). “All the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation so to strive” … and to thrive I would add. (Vatican II, Light of the Nations (Lumen Gentium). That means you are called to become excellent in what you do, where you do it and with whom you do it. This is what a saint is all about – to be seen as different – not better but exceptional – first – in competence, then character and then courage. When you do this, other people thrive as well. “A saint’s life sends out ripples of grace that bless many within the Church and outside of it. When the fruit of a saint’s life is missing, all of us are impoverished.” (Sherry Weddell in her book Forming Intentional Disciples).
The second type of “vocation” is the one that most people are familiar with – married, religious, priest, deacon. What is key here is what these vocations have to do with “authority” “power” and “jurisdiction.” Priestly authority is within the context of the parish. Lay authority is your right to act in the place of Jesus Christ or in place of the parish – in your family, at your place of work, in your neighborhood, at the activities of your children. Priestly power and lay power are similar. This has to do with the practical ability to fulfill what God has asked us. Here is where the “charisms” that we covered in the two “Called and Gifted Seminars” here in St. Monica (2015 and 2017) come in. What are you good at? What do you really enjoy doing? What talent do you have that impresses people, touches them deeply when you do it, touches people or makes situations better. Keep doing that! That is possibly your charism. That might be the “power” that God has given you to act in his place. Finally, “jurisdiction” is a particular setting or area of life where you exercise the power. For priests, it’s the church, parish, abbey. For lay people it’s the world … the – whole – world. That is your “playing field.”
One final note for this week… when you are discerning these types of vocation, your call to act will never be vague. God doesn’t play dice (Albert Einstein). God will clearly make the path clear, but you need to do your part too. I’ll get into that next week.