Vocation: Don’t Replace, Renew It

Innovation can be good. But some good things of life don’t need to be replaced. They just need to be rediscovered, renewed, or renovated. Vocation is one of them.
by Brother John Antonio, LC | Source: Catholic.net

The impact of the papal visit to the United States continues to manifest itself days after the event ended with the testimonies of the thousands who saw or heard Benedict XVI. When Benedict XVI stepped off the plane at Andrews Air Force Base on April 19, he set foot in the land of innovation.  But he himself is a man of innovation.  When he boarded his departure flight, he left Americans changed. American pragmatism has always had a special knack for finding a more efficient or convenient way to get the job done.  But our Holy Father has perhaps left us wiser in our use of this capability to replace the old with the new. 

A look at some social trends shows us that the innovation concept has perhaps been hastily applied to life choices.  Professionals make good money but change careers; students get good grades but change their majors; parents have great families and yet change spouses.  Change is not inherently bad.  Nor is it always within our power.  But when we change things out of a simple feeling of emptiness, it may be a sign of a deeper inner void.  When there is nothing within us to anchor our decisions we can soon find ourselves changing our important life choices and relationships as if we were shopping for a new plasma TV.  The essential structures of life eventually fall apart, like a crisis of some sort.

One could even call it a vocational crisis.  In the past, we have often heard of the vocation crisis as a reference to the insufficient number of priests and consecrated persons to fulfill the Church’s needs.  In the 60’s and 70’s, thousands left the seminaries and convents because the vocation appeared meaningless.  It seems that the term is now no longer restricted to a post-Vatican II phenomena caused by confusion over the consecrated life.   Today, American vocations are back on the rise, a fact that the Pope praised.  Millions of youth, however, have similar doubts about their lifestyles and the meaning of life itself.  It’s what our Holy Father on an earlier occasion called, “…a crisis of confidence in life, which deep down is nothing more than a lack of trust in the God who has called us to life.”   

There seems to be a self-preservation instinct in the human spirit that kicks into action when we don’t have good reasons for the important things we do.  Otherwise, we become like a cheetah that wastes its energy chasing after butterflies.  We sacrifice ourselves for things that don’t really matter.  This instinct doesn’t always make us ask the right questions, nor find the right answers.  But it does help us begin a search that, with effort and perseverance, can end in a solution.           

Rediscovering the sense of vocation is a good start.  On the Dunwoodie playing fields, Benedict referred to the vocation as “one of the four essential aspects of the treasure of our faith”.  Every Catholic needs to live a vocation.  A superficial pursuit of ideals leaves us unsure of what we do or at least discontent with the work.  In more serious cases, we can become frustrated and depressed.  Life looks different, however, when we see that it’s God who calls us to our career, to our education, and even to our spouses.  There’s nothing scandalous about this.  We often say we’re “meant for someone”, “destined for something”; why not make it a little more interpersonal and say “we’re called”?  But does God call us to a particular lifestyle and ministry; or are our careers and pursuits the children of chance? 

The importance Benedict has given to the vocation in many of his discourses reminds us that life doesn’t happen by accident (even in cases of “accidental” conception).  We are all here for a reason.  God is not a distant manager concerned only with our weekly Mass attendance, regular Confession, and then indifferent to all the other choices we make.  Nor is he the curious child who winds up a nutcracker, sets it on a table, and sits back to see where it’ll end up.  The Creator looks after our whole life with loving interest.

It matters to him what we choose to be: whether we’re neurosurgeons or nurses, teachers or CPA’s, single or married.  They aren’t choices that make or break our journey to heaven; but they certainly have relevance to the awesome plans that he has for each of us.  The idea of a pre-established plan may seem like a short leash to the “Be anything you want to be” mentality.  But saying we were created for anything in the end means to say we were created for nothing.  The divine plan, on the other hand, makes us free to live life with an unshakable purpose.     

The best place to discover a vocation is prayer.  This was the advice that Benedict gave the 20,000 young people and seminarians gathered at St. Joseph’s Seminary.  Nourished by personal prayer, prompted in silence, shaped by the Church’s liturgy you will discover the particular vocation God has for you.”  At prayer, we can speak with our Creator about the effects of our choices, our capabilities and our circumstances before starting something big. Then, if it’s enriching to us, good for others, and pleasing to God, it may be a vocation.   Once we start, we can consider it a call and consider it finished because God’s grace is never lacking for those with the will to persevere.

Innovation is sometimes good. But there are some good things of life don’t need to be replaced.  They just need to be rediscovered, renewed, or renovated.  A vocation is one of them.

Brother John Antonio, of the Legionaries of Christ, studies for the priesthood in Rome.

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