A vocation is a call from God to become the person he wants us to be by fulfilling a task he entrusts to our lives. In baptism we have received our primary vocation, the call to Christian discipleship which the Church refers to as a “universal call to holiness”. Part of living our call to holiness is discovering which of four specific vocations God wants for us. These specific vocations are the call to marriage, the call to priesthood (including diaconate), the call to religious life and the call to apostolic celibacy. Every vocation is a call to love in a particular way and is a task within the Church.
The First Vocation: the Call to Christian Discipleship
Sometimes we can overlook the important truth that the Church is the community of those who have been called by Christ. The Greek and Latin word for church, ’ecclesia’, literally means “those who have been called”. The second Vatican Council reminds us that all Christians are called to be saints, they have received in Baptism a “universal call to holiness”. This means that they are called to live not only the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity), but also the human virtues to an heroic degree.
Addressing young people in our diocese Pope Benedict said, “When I invite you to become saints, I am asking you not to be content with second best…. God wants your friendship. And once you enter into friendship with God, everything in your life begins to change. As you come to know him better, you find you want to reflect something of his infinite goodness in your own life. You are attracted to the practice of virtue. You begin to see greed and selfishness and all the other sins for what they really are, destructive and dangerous tendencies that cause deep suffering and do great damage, and you want to avoid falling into that trap yourselves. You begin to feel compassion for people in difficulties and you are eager to do something to help them. You want to come to the aid of the poor and the hungry, you want to comfort the sorrowful, you want to be kind and generous. And once these things begin to matter to you, you are well on the way to becoming saints.” A person living in this way is already living the Christian discipleship to which we are all called by virtue of our baptism.
Put very simply, the universal call to holiness means that we are called first and foremost to be saints. A Saint is disciple of Christ who lives the human and theological virtues to an heroic degree. In fact, when the Church decides someone should be proclaimed a saint, one of the first things she does issue a “decree of heroic virtue”. The virtues are important because they enable us to choose the right thing with freedom and joy. God’s grace perfects nature and when we live a virtuous life God is able to do much more with us. An analogy might be that of driving a car: no matter how good the fuel, if the engine is not tuned or the tyres are flat the car won’t perform as well as it could.
- The Human Virtues
- A human virtue is a strength of character that enables us to do the right thing joyfully. There are many human virtues but they are all categorised under four main headings: justice, prudence, fortitude and temperance.
- A person who lives a virtuous life is, in a sense, more fully human because he or she has the strength to do what they perceive to be right. Many people, for example, want to behave in a certain way, for example to live a pure life or to be patient with those around them, but because they haven’t acquired the virtue of chastity, or of patience, they find it very difficult to sustain this.
- Human virtues are acquired through time by repeating acts that express the virtue itself.
- The Theological Virtues
- In the Acts of the Apostles we read that the first Christians were united in three things: “the teaching of the Apostles” (the faith of the Church), the “fellowship” (self-sacrificing love), and the “breaking of bread and prayers” (trust in God through sacraments and prayer). These correspond to the three theological virtues which we receive in our baptism and are called to live and deepen throughout our lives. The theological virtues are faith which is not just knowing what God has done for us in Christ but knowing God. The second theological virtue is hope whereby we put our trust in God and which we express when we turn to him in prayer. The third theological virtue is charity, love of God and our neighbour lived in a self-sacrificing way. A Christian is identified by these theological virtues.
The Four Supernatural Vocations in the Church
In addition to the call to Christian discipleship, or the universal call to holiness, each individual has a specific vocation or way of life to which Christ is calling him in the Church. Living well our call to Christian discipleship helps us discern our specific vocation because it disposes us to be open to God’s will and to discern it in prayer. It also enables us to respond generously when we recognise Christ’s call because we are already living the freedom that comes with a virtuous life.
There are four specific, supernatural vocations in the Church: the call to religious life, the call to Holy Orders (including priesthood and the diaconate), the call to marriage and the call to apostolic celibacy (to be an unmarried layperson in the middle of the world). Because everyone is called to at least one of these states of life, it is important for everyone try to discover their specific vocation.