In today’s Second Reading, in 1 Corinthians, St. Paul talks about different designations in the church; apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of mighty deeds, healers, etc .. He also talks about different parts of the body: foot, eye, hand, ear. Paul is indicating different levels of “vocation.”
When people hear the word vocation, they typically think about married, priesthood, religious life. Actually there are three levels of vocation.
The first level is the “Universal Call to Holiness.” This is based on Matthew 5:48 – “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” It is also expressed in the opening pages of the Bible, in the Lord’s words to Abraham: “Walk before me, and be blameless” (Gen 17:1).
It is described in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium (n. 41) which is the Catholic Church description of itself. It says that everyone is included in the universal call to holiness.
“The forms and tasks of life are many but holiness is one — that sanctity which is cultivated by all who act under God’s Spirit and… follow Christ, poor, humble and cross-bearing, that they may deserve to be partakers of his glory.”
That phrase, “The forms and tasks of life are many,” brings us to the second type of vocation: vocation as a “state of life.” This is what people typically think about when they hear the word “vocation:” priest, married, religious brother or sister, deacon. Holiness is achieved within this state of life. It is the pathway by which you help bring the Kingdom if God to earth. It is also the crucible in which the cross of our sinful tendencies are burned away to reveal a person and soul of holiness.
St. Francis de Sales is the master of this idea in his book, Introduction to the Devout Life.” He writes:
Each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion. God has commanded Christians – the living plants of his Church – to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one in accord with his character, his station and his calling.
I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.
Is it proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for a Capuchin to be more concerned about increasing his income than married people; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious? Is not this sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganized and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently. It is very definitely false devotion. (From The Introduction to the Devout Life, by Saint Francis de Sales, bishop (Pars 1, cap 3). “Devotion must be practiced in different ways.”)
So how do we get it right? That brings us to the third aspect of vocation which deals with charisms.
God is calling you to a specific work of love – tailor made for you – that will fill your life with purpose and joy. Discerning your charisms can help you discover that call. It also relates to what Francis de Sales and St. Paul have said about avoiding tasks for which you have not been called.
If you know your gifts, it becomes easier to say “no” when people ask you for things that you really aren’t good at. This can help you simplify your life and avoid burnout. Most of the world believes they have to do something in order to have something so they can be something. That is not how we were originally designed. In God’s design, we are something, so we have everything, and then can do anything. Understanding and discerning your gifts is about experiencing God’s pleasure without ever having to perform.
- A prayer. Ask God to pour out his graces upon you – in abundance.
- What’s your state in life? That might seem obvious but name it. If you’re single, ask God to help you discern to what state in life he calling you.
- What are you good at? What do people come to you asking advice for? What do you like doing that seems to have a positive effect on people around you when you do it?
You can hear the Father’s voice as a son or daughter and trust that He is able to guide you. You know you belong, so you can believe God’s promises and then behave as He has called you to do.