There are a great variety of vocations in life, but all require a deep, persistent love. Whether we look at our vocation in general terms and consider whether we are called to the religious life or the sacrament of marriage, or else look at the more detailed aspects of our vocation—which includes the place and time in which we live, the people we encounter, the gifts and talents with which we are blessed—every vocation involves love to a deep degree. But what does it mean to be ‘called to love’?
The word ‘love’ has suffered a terrible expansion of meaning. One can use this term to express anything from a deep fervent devotion for one’s spouse to a heartfelt desire for chocolate. A Carmelite Sister once pointed out that, surely, when one says, “I love my dog,” and “I love my husband,” the person cannot possibly intend the exact same meaning for both cases. Therefore, when we speak of ‘Christian love,’ many get a fuzzy image in their minds of something that ‘feels’ nice and good. But is that what love means?
Unlike our modern tendency to lump several meanings into the use of the term ‘love,’ the Ancient Greeks had a variety of terms for ‘love’ in order to hone in on classifications of specific meanings they intended. ‘Agape’ is the term one can best apply to Christian love, because it expresses self-sacrificing love, and Christian love is all about imitating the One Who sacrificed Himself for Love. Christ on the Cross, Agape Personified, shows us what exactly He meant when He said we must love.
Love is a paradoxical truth because it means self-giving, and in giving up of the self we find our true selves. God created us in His image and likeness, so there is no greater way for us to find our true selves as we were created than when we love, because the One we magnify in our very natures is Himself Love. When we practice a little extra patience, when we let a car pass in front of us with a smile, when we say a kind word or share even just a minute with someone in need, we are forgoing our own selves for the sake of others, in imitation of Christ who sacrificed Himself fully for us, and is the greatest of all among Men, for truly, those who “are first will be last, and the last first.”
The vocation of Man, then, is to love. The greatest and lowest, the first and the last of all the saints of Heaven have found their vocation in this self-giving agape in imitation of their Master, and in mirroring God in Whose image we are created. Love is not merely an aspect of many vocations: it is truly the heart of every vocation.