Catholic Teaching

Discerning Your Vocational State in Life

"Our Lord has created persons for all states in life, and in all of them we see people who achieved sanctity by fulfilling their obligations well." ~ St. Anthony Mary Claret

When we hear the word "vocation" we tend to think of the men and women who are called to the consecrated religious life as priests, monks, and religious sisters. However, we are all called to discern God's will for our particular vocational state in life -- whether we are single, married, or consecrated religious. In a plan of sheer goodness, God freely created man to share in His own blessed life. For this reason, God draws close to man. He calls men to seek Him, to know Him, to love Him with all their strength...and, ultimately, to serve Him. God calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of His family, the Church. To accomplish this, God sent His Son as our Redeemer and Savior. Through Christ and in the Holy Spirit, we are invited to become God's spiritual children. Even more, we are called to be partakers in the divine nature. "His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power. Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature..." (2 Peter 1:3-4). As St. Irenaeus of Lyons stated, "He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man...might become the son of God. The glory of God is the human person fully alive."

It has been said there is a difference between getting Christ into your life, and getting into the life of Christ. How better to get ourselves into the life of Christ than to seek God's will of our vocation in life? However, a vocation is not just a personal phenomenon, it is also communal. Every individual, every couple, every family and Christian community has a vocation, a calling from God. Our vocation is a gift, but it is also a mandate and we are expected to fulfill it.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (915) tells us that Christ proposes the Evangelical Counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience -- in their great variety -- to every disciple. All the faithful are called to the perfection of charity -- to work for the sanctification of the world from within. By embracing the Evangelical Counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience according to one's state in life, lay people share in the Church's task of evangelization, their presence acting as a leaven in the world. Our witness of a Christian life aims to order the temporal things of this world according to God and to bring to the world the life-giving power of the Gospel.

Let us reflect on how each of the three Evangelical Counsels relate to our lives.

 

 

POVERTY

When most people think of poverty, they envision destitution, squalor, and the absence of necessities for living what we see as a decent human life. Whatever gospel poverty might mean, most of us are convinced it surely can't be a viable option for us. The greatest commandment -- that we love God with our whole heart, whole soul, whole mind, and whole strength -- is directed to all people, without exception. Our states in life vary in regards to how they lead to this goal, but the goal remains the same for all. Just because we have not been called to the consecrated religious life does not mean we are called to an inferior holiness.

In his book, Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom, the late Fr. Thomas Dubay calls evangelical poverty a beautiful and freeing ideal. Gospel poverty is not sought for its own sake, but for what it makes possible: a radical readiness, a sensitivity to Jesus' message, a sharing with the needy, an apostolic credibility, a pilgrim witness in a world of dwindling resources. We all must be aware of the shallowness and emptiness of the pursuit of material goods for their own sake. Gospel poverty is an inner detachment, a readiness to be separated from material things when love of neighbor or circumstances of life require it. Gospel poverty is living with moderation in all things.

In regard to lay people living frugal lives, Blessed Charles de Foucauld said, "Live simply, avoid any unnecessary expense...in your manner of life, withdraw from everything that smacks of the world, vanity and pride. There must be no economizing on alms, but rather increases...Trust! Trust! Be free from anxiety...God will arrange your future a hundred times better than you and all the people in the world put together could do." This doesn't mean we don't plan for a secure future for ourselves and our families. It does mean that, though living in the world, our center of gravity is not on the earth -- it is in the embrace of the Blessed Trinity.

We are to recognize that true beauty stems from an inner radiance of goodness, not from artificial props and outward ornamental things. Are we concerned with living in the minds of others or in the mind of Christ? As Christians, we are to be immeasurably more interested in the splendor of truth, the symphony of music, the beauty of nature and art, the glory of prayer and selfless human love. We are to replace consumerism with a concern for genuine beauty, especially in regardx to the formation of our children. We are to be aware of what we possess, versus what possesses us.

CHASTITY

The Church teaches clearly that all people are called to chastity, each according to one's state in life. For those who are single, chastity requires abstaining from sexual behavior and activity. For those who are married, chastity requires exercising their sexual powers in keeping with the laws of God and nature. For all people, this means governing passions by self-denial.

Those who are married must never approach their spouses as objects to satisfy lust, but as partners with whom they cooperate in essential work of marriage -- the procreation and education of children. For consecrated religious, or those who have taken vows of consecrated virginity, this means offering their love and life completely to Our Lord's service.

The Catechism states that the virtue of chastity is the successful integration of sexuality within a person's bodily and spiritual being. Scripture makes it clear that what people do in and to their bodies touches the core of their personhood. Chastity empowers us to make right use of a great gift from God. Disordered sexual behavior lies at the root of the cancers of abortion, pornography and sexual assault in our society. Both individuals and society suffer tremendously when the gift of sexuality is misused.

The Catechism also states: "By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory." What a beautiful and refreshing view of children and marriage in a day and age when children are portrayed as obstacles to self-fulfillment and self-indulgence...and where some seek to redefine marriage as something other than a sacred covenant between God, husband, and wife.

Just as a reading of Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) beautifully illustrates the Church's call of generous and responsible parenthood, St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body speaks with equal beauty about the "nuptial" meaning of the body.

OBEDIENCE

Our Lord commanded His Church to go out into the world and to continue His work until the end of time. To accomplish this task, He endowed the Church, through the Apostles, with His own authority. Luke 10:16 says, "Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me." In other words, when we listen to the voice of St. Peter and the Apostles, or their successors, it is Christ Himself to Whom we listen. Conversely, when we reject the teaching of the Church and prefer our own judgment to that of the Magisterium, it is ultimately Christ Whom we reject. The Church speaks on earth with the same authority as Christ Himself and is able in every age to apply the principles revealed by God to particular moral problems as they arise. We believe the Holy Spirit preserves the Church from error when she teaches on matters of faith and morals.

In other words, Catholics are obliged by our Baptism to accept and obey the teachings of the Church on all questions of faith and morals. Refusal to accept Church teaching can damage, and even destroy, the communion of an individual Catholic with the Church and with God. We are not at liberty to decide whether or not to accept a particular teaching. By rejecting Truth, by believing falsely or acting immorally, we place ourselves in grave spiritual danger.

Though she rightly demands obedience, the Church does not desire that we simply accept Church teaching without understanding why it is true. It is possible for human reason, aided by grace, to know the reasons why certain behaviors are contrary to human nature. By approaching with great faith the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation, we should never lose heart due to our weakness and our inclination to sin.

SUMMARY

Since the time of Adam and Eve, God has invited us to intimate communion with Himself and has clothed us with resplendent grace and justice. The Church on earth is endowed with a sanctity that is real, though imperfect. In her members, perfect holiness is something yet to be acquired. The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium (Light of the Nations) states: "Strengthened by so many and by such great means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state -- though each in his own way -- are called by the Lord to that perfection of sanctity by which the Father Himself is perfect."

Incorporated into the Body of Christ by Baptism, we are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus...and so participate in the life of the Risen Lord. Following Christ and united with Him, we can strive to be imitators of God as beloved children -- to walk in love by conforming our thoughts, words, and actions to the mind of Christ Jesus. He came to call us out of darkness and into the light. This is the meaning of the word "Church"...ekklesia in Greek means those who are "called out." God has a unique and marvelous plan for each of our lives involving sacrifice and joys beyond our imaginings. To accept that call always means being ready to reform our lives.

Bombarded as we are by the continuous assault and clamor of the modern world, it is often difficult to hear the whisper of the Christ Child sent from heaven to save our souls. Let us gather our greatest treasures and recall to Whom they belong. Let us become a living sacrifice and place ourselves at the foot of the Cross so that through Him we may be raised again, as children of the Divine King. That is our vocation.

Patricia Johnson

 

Patricia is a mother of six and resides in Morgantown WV



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