Verso L’Alto (To the Heights)
Sonia Kurian chronicles the different vocational paths available in our journey towards the fullness of happiness in Him
There is perhaps no greater call from the Lord, that will impact your life and path to sainthood more, than your vocation. In the Christian/Catholic context of course, by vocation we typically mean the fundamental path/state of life, that the Lord might be calling us to live our life. Whether it be priesthood, religious life, consecrated life or marriage, it is important to remember that every vocation is always directed to the ultimate vocation to holiness. As the Second Vatican Council teaches in Lumen Gentium, “all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect.” This is the end we are all called to, without exception, regardless of our chosen path/vocation. And this is also the primary purpose of answering the vocational call – to utter a ‘Yes’ to the divine plan by which the Lord has chosen to woo us to heaven, and help others fall in love as well.
The call to Holy Orders and religious life, may be the first thing that most people think of, when they hear the word ‘vocation’ mentioned. It is one of the many vocations that the Lord may be calling you to, and the one that embodies the divine romance between Christ and his Church. It bears witness to the spousal union with our Lord, that the other vocations will perhaps only fully experience in heaven. It only takes looking at the lives of the great saints to see the heights of sanctity and ecstasy experienced within this vocation. Not only is there the absolute joy of getting to live out the interior and exterior life of love, with the Divine Lover himself. But there is also the opportunity of offering spiritual motherhood and fatherhood to the body of Christ itself – to reach out to countless souls, and to form and draw them into the heart of God And if that weren’t enough, Priesthood also offers the gift of administering the sacraments, including the Eucharist – thus fulfilling the promises made by Christ himself, to His Bride
The call to Holy Marriage, as pointed out in Lumen Gentium, “(is) appointed to feed the Church in Christ’s name with the word and the grace of God. Finally, Christian spouses, in virtue of the sacrament of Matrimony, whereby they signify and partake of the mystery of that unity and fruitful love which exists between Christ and His Church, help each other to attain to holiness in their married life and in the rearing and education of their children. By reason of their state and rank in life they have their own special gift among the people of God…. The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it, parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state.”
The aim of the vocation of marriage is incredibly important, because not only does it entrust each spouse to call the other to sanctity, it also trusts the spouses to bear and bring up new souls for the church and for Christ. It may be seen as the “default” vocation by many, perhaps even encouraged more by family or society over other vocational paths. But it is important to not take lightly the call to marriage. It is no simple task, to be gifted with such intimate knowledge and influence on the lives and souls of one’s family. To take on this gift, from God and to point your loved ones back to God, while also juggling the daily tasks and surprises of family life, is a journey that can only be accomplished well, with the help of the third and Divine Person in marriage.
The Consecrated Virgins, are the third possible vocation recognized in the Church, wherein the individual can consecrate their “perpetual virginity to God and is set aside as a sacred person who belongs to Christ in the Catholic Church”. They remain in a public/secular state of life, live individually (instead of in a religious community) and provide for their own needs. They are consecrated to God through the diocesan bishop, according to the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity, approved by the Church. They are not single, but consecrated spouses of Christ and they point to Christ as the ultimate fulfillment of their lives. This is not a new phenomenon, and in fact as early as 110 A.D, the church has records of Consecrated Virgins – especially before women were able to enter religious convents. St. Agnes, St. Agatha, St. Cecilia and St. Lucy are among the Church’s known Consecrated Virgins. It may be a fitting call to those who may desire to consecrate themselves to the Lord, but not be drawn to religious/monastic orders. On July 4th, 2018, the prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, formally presented the first document of the Holy See that delves into the character and discipline of this way of life, called the “The Instruction On the ‘Ordo Virginum’ (‘Order of Virgins’)”.
So, how does one go about discerning what vocation one might be called to then? Well it comes down to listening to the voice of the Lord. Now, that process itself may require its own preparation of the heart and our own spiritual lives. The peeling away of distractions, fears and the voices that do not belong to God is a journey that is vital to discernment in general. As St. Teresa of Avila remarked, “like a good Shepherd, with a call so gentle that even they (the senses and faculties) can hardly recognize it, He teaches them to know His voice and not to go astray and get lost but to return to their dwelling place”. And the good news, of course, is that the skills you learn in this process, are totally repeatable and will be useful to you for the rest of your life, in any matter of discernment. Another thing you may find helpful is to find a spiritual director, who can help you navigate the waters and provide an objective and experienced perspective on various matters as well. Listening to your community and family can provide valuable perspectives too, and could be one of the ways in which the Lord may be speaking to you. Be open to it all, but take all things to the Lord, to discern what is from Him and what is not.
All of our discernment must ultimately lead to a decision, or at least a step towards making a decision. This may mean visiting various religious orders, speaking with people living out different vocations, finding an elder or spiritual director to help you, and of course lots of prayer. Ultimately though, we must make a decision and the decision should be ours. The Lord may prod and nudge and so may everyone else in your life, but He allows His gift of free will, in our lives – fully, freely and with loving generosity. Ensuring the decision is yours, will not only mean you stay true to the Lord’s call for you, but that you won’t allow yourself to be influenced into a decision you may later regret and blame others for.
Now perhaps you may be tempted to worry, “What if I pick the wrong vocation? What if it’s too late?”. Well, like we said before, the Lord allows us to freely decide. Even if we pick the “wrong” vocation, God is still faithful in keeping His end of the vows and giving us the grace, we need to faithfully live out the vocation we pick. As we mentioned earlier as well, the ultimate goal of our vocation is holiness, and the Lord who is so good at writing straight with crooked lines, can work with our little detours quite well. As St. Catherine of Sienna said, “All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, “I am the way.””. So then, as we journey heavenward, let us not be afraid to trust in the Lord fully, fling ourselves into His loving arms, and allow Him to lead us into the adventure of our lives.
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