It is quite traditional and correct to speak of “discerning a vocation” – particularly to consecrated life or the priesthood, though also in regard to marriage, careers, and other major commitments. In modern Western culture, however, the idea of vocational discernment has become problematic, producing unnecessary indecision and anxiety.
The problem is not with the traditional concepts and language, but with us and our mindset. Shaped by the modern sensibility of intense self-consciousness, and by the consumer culture’s obsession with options and the “pursuit of happiness,” we think too much about ourselves and our preferences. Often, we are looking for the wrong things in a vocation. And we approach the discernment of our calling in a correspondingly wrong way.
This is true across the board: with regard to choices like marriage and work, just as for consecrated religious vocations and the priesthood. In all these areas, we invest the idea of a vocation with expectations our forebears did not have. We think that discernment consists in figuring out whether those expectations will be met. Then we become frustrated when no option seems to fit the bill.
Our expectations are wrong. Consciously or not, we sometimes expect a vocation to solve all of our problems, answer all of our questions, and satisfy all of our desires. But these are not the purposes of a vocation. Discernment, likewise, does not consist in finding the choice that will meet those expectations.
Your vocation will not live up to these unrealistic hopes. Nothing in this world will answer all your questions, solve all your problems, or satisfy all your desires. These are impossible, immature ambitions, and the spiritual life consists largely in realizing that they are impossible and immature.
The purpose of life is the unitive devotional service of God, which includes the love of our neighbor (in whom God dwells). This is the real purpose of any vocation. Some forms of life, such as monasticism, are ordered directly to this end; other states of life are oriented toward it indirectly. But these are only different versions of the one human vocation: to love and serve God, and become one with him in Christ.
A vocation – any vocation – is a school of charity and a means of crucifixion. Your vocation is the means by which your self-serving ego will die in order to be resurrected as the servant and lover of God. This is all that we can expect; but this is everything – the meaning of life, all there really is.
“Your vocation is not about you”
July 6, 2014 by