Considering vocations?

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In 2015, the week beginning August 2 is Vocations Awareness Week. Catholics generally associate the word vocation with the priesthood and consecrated life.

However, some often pose the question:  What is a vocation?

The word comes from the Latin: vocare to call, and the notion of “call” comes before us often in the Scriptures.
Who can forget in the opening chapters of Mark and Matthew’s Gospels those encounters by the Sea of Galilee? Fishermen, Simon and Andrew casting their nets in the sea; James, son of Zebedee and John his brother, sitting in their boat mending their nets.

They have no inkling of what is about to happen to them, something that will change their lives forever. Jesus, walking by the sea, calls to them, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of people” (Mark 1:16-20). They drop their nets and leave their father and his workers behind in the boat where they’d been sitting and, responding to his call, they follow Jesus.

The Bible offers many other stories, like the story of Peter’s call renewed, which appears at the end of John’s Gospel. It is one of the most exquisite stories in the New Testament. The Risen Jesus reveals himself to his disciples as they fish. He calls to them to join him on the shore and then comes the moment of reconciliation: “Simon Peter, do you love me more than these?” Peter undergoes the threefold question in order to heal the breach of his earlier threefold betrayal. Peter now humbly responds: “You know I love you.”

This is not just reconciliation; it is also the passing of the baton. Jesus now hands over to Peter and to his companions the mission he himself had been given by the Father. “Feed my sheep”: This is the responsibility of the Church and, as members of that Church, a responsibility that rests in varying degrees on every one of us.

Many people only use the term “vocation” to talk about priests, and those living a religious or consecrated life, but this can be misleading, as it may limit our understanding of vocation to these few groups of people, and doesn’t do justice to its full meaning.

God calls us all through our baptism to be a “living cell” in the Body of Christ, the Church – to be an active member of this community and so to learn from each other as fellow pilgrims on our journey through life.
Ultimately, discovering one’s calling, or vocation, in any walk of life, is all about relationships. It requires a close, authentic, and healthy relationship with the Lord, with ourselves, and with others who have chosen the path.

Especially for those considering the call to the priesthood, religious or consecrated life, it involves listening to others who take seriously their own discernment process, and serving people in need who will always present to us the face of Christ. You are not in this journey of discernment alone!

In his November 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis underlined the continued need to build a culture of vocations.

“The fraternal life and fervour of the community can awaken in the young a desire to consecrate themselves completely to God and to preaching of the Gospel. This is particularly true if such a living community prays insistently for vocations and courageously proposes to its young people the path of special consecration,” Pope Francis wrote.

A culture of vocations is one that provides the necessary support for others to hear and respond to God’s call in their lives. With God’s grace, we help build that culture through fervent prayer, the witness of our lives and the encouragement we extend to those discerning a vocation to priesthood or consecrated life. It is my earnest hope that we continue to extend and deepen a culture of vocations in the diocese of Sandhurst.

In Australia, we have the Catholic Vocations Ministry of Australia, CVMA, which exists to foster a vocations culture that educates people about the nature of vocation and promotes, at a national level, the development of vocations ministry to foster and promote vocations through prayer, awareness, affirmation and support.

The Religious or Consecrated Life is about consecrating oneself to a particular understanding of the Christian journey (known as a charism) in service of the Church.

Some commit to a life of prayer, others to education or health care. However they live out their charism, they bring Christ to those to whom they minister. Some live a contemplative lifestyle, focused on prayer, while others have a missionary focus.

 Regarding a calling to the priesthood, these words of St John Paul II may be helpful: “I am often asked why I became a priest. I must begin by saying that it is impossible to explain entirely. For it remains a mystery, even to myself. How does one explain the ways of God? Yet, I know that at a certain point in my life, I became convinced that Christ was saying to me what he had said to thousands before me: “Come, follow me!” There was a clear sense that what I heard in my heart was no human voice, nor was it just an idea of my own. Christ was calling me to serve him as a priest.”

As we approach Vocations Awareness Week, let us pray that we may assist our young people to discern the call of Christ and respond to it with generosity and faith.

- Bishop Les Tomlinson, Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst, October, 2015