In keeping with my tradition of quoting other people in order to come up with a blog post, I want to discuss a piece someone else wrote on the subject of your “personal vocation.” If you’ve ever participated in a high school youth group, a college-level religious club, or even a casual discernment retreat, the phrase is familiar. But we might all disagree about what it means.
So the piece, by Michael Hannon on First Things, bears the clever title “Love God and Do What You Will: Avoiding Over-Devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Discernment.” Here’s the heart of it:
God does not tell each of us exactly what to do all the time. In fact, he does not necessarily even tell us what to do with regards to major life choices, including choices between religious and secular life. He gifts us with any number of good and virtuous options, and then leaves the decision to us. As a mantra classically attributed to St. Augustine puts it, “Love God and do what you will.”
And the main conclusion: “The Christian ought to make major life decisions as he ought to make all decisions: by evaluating how he can serve God, by choosing a course of action accordingly, and by having the courage to follow through and do it.”
Mr. Hannon’s analysis definitely applies, in my mind, to most life choices: what college to attend, what career to pursue, what city to live in, what charity to support. You could receive a good education and live as a faithful Catholic at just about any college; you could serve God as a doctor, a plumber, an artist, or a full-time parent; you could help the poor by supporting crisis pregnancy centers or soup kitchens. We can’t all do everything: that’s why there’s many parts in the one Body of Christ. Aside from moral questions, God lets us choose what to do with our lives — and that’s a great thing! A bit daunting, but still pretty cool.
When it comes to religious vs secular life, however, I’m not certain Mr. Hannon is right.
My older sister, to take an illustrative example, had long planned on getting married and having kids someday. In college, she became even more serious about her faith and began attending daily Mass and receiving spiritual direction. Several months after graduation, she entered the Sisters of Life, where she is now a very happy novice. Her experience of discernment made her confident that God calls every individual to a specific course in life. I’ve heard a lot of similar vocation stories from priests (and religious) who believed that God personally called them at a certain point in their lives to enter a certain diocese (or order) as a candidate for ordination (or religious vows).
I would guess, however, that many laypeople never felt specifically called to the lay life. Rather, if I’m normal, we laypeople interpret the apparent absence of a call to the religious life as a call to the lay life. Then if we fall in love with someone, we feel called to marriage.
That means some people who neither feel called to religious life and nor (at the moment) to marriage can feel like they’re stuck between the two major vocations of religious life and married life, waiting and waiting for God to reveal their personal vocation, even if they’re obeying the universal call to holiness. This doesn’t seem right.
So have we put too much stock in the “personal vocation” idea, as Mr. Hannon suggests in the piece I mentioned? Or does God call different people in different ways — some individually to particular vocations, and others to pursue holiness as they see fit?
Got any enlightening thoughts or experiences on the subject? Have you felt called, as an individual, to what you’re doing, or do you tend to think of God’s will as a general (rather than particular) guide to life? I’d especially love to hear from priests, religious, and married people who have committed to a certain vocation already.
[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Anna-e1313148593490.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Anna Williams is an editorial page intern at a major newspaper and a recent graduate of Hillsdale College. She likes reading books, writing letters, and exploring all things Catholic.[/author_info] [/author]