Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
How Is God
To be created is to be called by God. The mystery
of vocation or call is part of God's love for me. I remember learning
as a small child in religion class that God loves me and keeps
creating me day by day. So I am convinced that God's creating
me is both a gift and a call. I respond to God's love and God's
call by becoming more visibly the image of God that I am.
In this Update we will take a closer look
at this notion of calling, or vocation, especially in relation
to the specialized callings of ordination and religious life.
It is important to remember, though, that everyone is being called
by God. These specialized vocations of ordained and religious
life can only be understood in that context. Everyone in the Church
is called to help nurture these particular vocations of service
to the People of God. So this Update is not only for those
who are considering religious life or ordained ministry, but also
for parents, grandparents, godparents, aunts, unclesindeed
everyone in the Church who is seeking God's ongoing call or who
is nurturing God's call in others.
How do we know we are following our call to holiness?
It will manifest itself when we become like Jesus: compassionate,
forgiving, loving and healing toward others. If I think about
the people in my life whom I would readily call holy, I would
think of neighbors who reached out to those in need when it was
not convenient or those who were concerned about suffering people
in poor countries. Or I might associate holiness with courage
in adversity, a courage that comes from faith. Holiness is manifested
in selfless love, forgiveness and service.
Everyone has a vocation
We may think we know each other well, but our knowledge
of each other only goes so far. In our depths each and every one
of us is in touch with the mystery of God. At the core of each
person is a call, or vocation. It is a call to holiness, to becoming
a living response to God's love. Call is common to everyone, yet
responding to God's love is meant to be unique and particular
for me. Knowing myself and being honest about my dreams and capabilities
are the first steps in discovering how I am called to live out
my vocation to holiness.
Discovering the mystery of God's calling for me
is not like solving the mystery laid out in a novel or TV series.
God is not cleverly trying to trick me into suspecting the wrong
choice is the right one. As a matter of fact, God is so gracious
that as I choose any direction, there are before me a multitude
of paths toward my goal of union with God.
As I try to discover whether God is calling me to
holiness through marriage or single life, as a priest, deacon
or member of a religious community, it is important to remember
that my call is not a narrow plan that God is hiding from me.
Being relaxed and trusting that God loves me and always gives
what I need for my salvation will help me discern my call in a
Ministry is not for a chosen few but is mandated
by our Baptism. And every ministry, married or celibate, involves
service. The service required of me may be a specifically Church-related
ministry such as religious education or pastoral care of the sick.
Or it may be service of the poor in a soup kitchen, serving the
sick as a doctor or nurse, or caring for children or an aging
parent. As a baptized Christian I participate in the life and
mission of Jesus by attending to the needs of others.
There is a misconception that one becomes a member
of a religious community in order to work in a parish, school,
hospital, social service organization or as a missionary to a
Third World country. All these ministries can be done by persons
who are not members of religious communities.
The vocation to religious life
The call to religious life is always marked by a
desire to serve God and God's people, to care for the needy and
to bring people to experience God's love. But, since ministry
is a part of every vocation, service is not the distinguishing
characteristic of a call to consecrated life as a member of a
religious community. The uniqueness of the call to religious life
is living the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in community.
The essential service of the religious is to witness to all the
faithful that each of us is called to treat things, persons and
our own self with respect and as ultimately belonging to God.
At the heart of the call to religious life is a
desire to give oneself in love to God in a way so total that the
pursuit of union with God makes it impossible for anything or
anyone to be more central. One becomes unavailable for marriage.
The vow of chastity or consecrated celibacy arises
from a hunger to find a love so immense that it impels me to give
my whole life in one fell swoop, trusting that the beloved has
an infinite desire and capacity for my well-being and happiness.
If you feel this hunger to love and be loved in a way that seems
to surpass the human capacity, you may be experiencing a call
to religious life. Celibacy expresses a desire to be unconditionally
attached to Jesus Christ.
A characteristic of consecrated celibacy is a desire
to love more and more people, to see all God's children, especially
the most needy, as the ones with a primary right to one's care
and love. The lives of religious raise for people who meet them
a question about the possibility of loving without measure, loving
those who have no claim on them as family.
The person called to religious life feels a desire
to live simply. The vow of poverty involves assuming a new relationship
with thingsone that reverences all things, and creation
itself, as ultimately given by and belonging to God. Religious
share material goods in common and depend on the religious congregation
or community to provide what is needed. If you feel a desire to
be detached from things, to find your treasure in God, you may
be experiencing a call to religious life. Religious poverty witnesses
to all people that we do not have an absolute right to accumulate
things or to treat them as though they were not for the good of
all. The vow of poverty is chosen to express dependence on and
trust in God's care for us.
The vow of obedience is often misunderstood as a
servile dependence. Actually, it is an acknowledgment that all
of us are called to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking through
the circumstances of our lives. It is easy to see that married
people who have children must make decisions that are good for
their family. These may not be the same choices that they would
make if they had no responsibilities for each other or their children.
They listen to the Holy Spirit revealed in the circumstances of
marriage and family.
Religious commit themselves to listen to God speaking
through the constitutions and decisions of the community and through
those members who are appointed as leaders of the community. God's
call is also recognized as coming through the Church and sacred
Scripture, the needs of the world and the mission of the community.
Listening is always done in prayer and with respect for each person.
The witness of obedience is that we are ultimately dependent on
God and that a life of interdependence, as opposed to dependence
or the illusion of absolute independence, is the way to holiness.
Obedience is assumed to help the religious be honest
in his or her search for God's will. If you feel a desire to base
your important life decisions more and more completely in a context
of God's call, you may be experiencing a call to religious life.
Each of the vows is rooted in a desire to give self
totally to God, to grow in intimacy with Jesus Christ and help
people come to love God more fully. Each of the vows is a witness
to all people of the primacy of God which is meant to mark the
lives of everyone. Because they are about our relationship with
God, the vows are always sustained by a life of prayer and by
the sacraments. Prayer, both individually and as community, is
a central element in the life of every religious.
Our culture is more supportive of sexual gratification,
consumerism and independence than it is of chastity, detachment
from material goods and interdependence. Community life is needed
to support one who attempts to live values not prevalent in the
culture. At the same time, community life is a challenge. We all
know that it is difficult to make room in our lives and in our
immediate environment for the idiosyncrasies of others. Just think
of family gatherings or the workplace and how easily we are annoyed
by behaviors that we do not like. Community involves learning
lessons of tolerance, self-sacrifice and reverence for persons
who are different from us.
Community itself is one of the greatest witnesses
that religious life has to offer in a culture where self- interest
and individualism can lead to isolationism and even violence.
The call to priesthood
A vocation to the priesthood differs from a call
to religious life. Some priests, however, are members of religious
communities (Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, Precious Blood
Fathers, etc.), and so all of the above reflections on religious
life apply to them.
Priests are ordained for ministry, which at its
heart is a call to lead the members of the Church to holiness
by loving and serving the people of a parish or diocesan community.
They have a unique call to lead parish communities by bringing
them the sacraments and other means to holiness offered through
the Church. It is especially through presiding at Eucharist that
priests live at the center of the Church and offer members of
the Church the most profound gift of God's grace and presence.
In addition to presiding at sacramental celebrations,
priests have the responsibility of proclaiming the gospel in ways
that inspire and challenge the members of the Church. If you have
a love of Scripture and desire to lead the people of God in celebration
of the sacraments, you may be called to the priesthood.
Just as Christ's role was to be a reconciler, bringing
the broken back into a renewed relationship to God, so reconciling
people to God and one another permeates the ministry of a priest.
In order to bring healing and health to the Body of Christ, a
priest lives close to the people, knowing their triumphs and failures,
the pain and joy of the community. He stands with the members
of the community at significant momentswhen they are joined
in marriage, bury their loved ones, in sickness.
It is in these moments that his special relationship
to the Body of Christ is most visible. He is at one and the same
time the presence of Christ for the community and the representative
or voice of the community in its celebrations. The priest knows
the privilege and responsibility of modeling the holiness of God
for the People of God.
If you feel a deep desire to be at the heart of
the Church community, to lead the people by example, you may be
called to the priesthood.
Diocesan priests (those who are not also members
of religious communities) do not take vows or commit themselves
to live in community. They do make promises of celibacy and of
obedience to their bishop. These promises are primarily for the
sake of ministry but also hold a witness value since they speak
of the primacy of God and God's people in the life of a priest.
The calling to be deacon
Deacons are also ordained for ministry to the People
of God. Their ordination puts them in a new relationship to the
Church community that requires them to serve the people by aiding
them as they journey to union with God. However, their first responsibility
is to their families and their second to the way in which they
witness in their place of work, the marketplace. The diaconate
is primarily a ministry of service, especially to the poor. Deacons
share some leadership roles in the worshiping assembly. At Eucharist,
they serve at the altar and proclaim the Gospel. They can preach
homilies, preside at weddings and at Baptisms. The call to be
a deacon involves a love of the Word of God and a desire to serve.
Signs of a Call to Priesthood/Diaconate
NEXT: Real Presence in the Eucharist (U.S. Catholic
The 3rd Continental Congress on Vocations, Montreal,
Quebec, April 18-21, 2002, is an effort to raise awareness of
strategies to help people discover vocations to ordained ministry
and consecrated life. More information is at the Web site www.vocations2002.org.
This Catholic Update is intended as a resource to contribute
to the aims of the Congress.