God calls each of us to a particular vocation in life.
The Catholic Church defines both particular vocations as states of life including marriage, religious life, and priesthood, as well as a general vocation of all baptized believers.
A person can have many different callings in life. For instance a person can have a calling to marriage, to fatherhood, and to a certain occupation. In the Catholic worldview everything we do should be ordered toward discerning and responding to the will of God, the ultimate good in an imperfect world. Ordering our lives toward God’s desire is the way in which we get to heaven. We do this in many ways. The following list is not exhaustive:
- Discerning our primary vocation (marriage, priesthood, religious life, etc.)
- Discerning our particular vocation (whom to marry, etc.)
- Following God’s will for our relationships
- Avoiding sin and seeking to examine our conscience to discern where we are falling short and where we are responding to grace
- Seeking to understand how God wants us to respond to circumstances in the world around us
A vocation of marriage is God’s call for us to make a union with a person of the opposite sex to help each other grow in holiness and love for God. One of the major goals of marriage is to get our spouses to heaven. When you hear about vocations, it is usually associated with priesthood and the religious life, but marriage seems to be the vocation of the majority of people. Living a married life can be just as much a response to God’s call as becoming a priest, monk, or sister.
One of the gifts and callings of marriage is to share in God’s creative work (bearing children) if physically able. By becoming mothers and fathers God entrusts us to raise children by modeling the love of God for us to our children. A family is the first community a child knows, and parents who strive to do the best for their children model the love of God to their children.
Religious life is a call to join a community for love of God and building up of the Kingdom of God. A sister, brother, monk, or nun serves God and his people in a unique way through prayer and service.
Sisters and brothers are members of religious orders who do work in the world. They may run soup kitchens, teach, serve as missionaries, or fulfill many other needed tasks in the world and in the Church. Monks and nuns typically stay in monasteries and convents. Their primary ministry is through prayer. While it may seem that they don’t do enough to help the Church, their prayer is vital in empowering the Church to fulfill its mission.
Men in religious life can also be ordained as priests.
A call to ordained priesthood, whether in a diocese or in a religious community, is a calling to serve God and his people. What distinguishes priesthood most especially is that the priest performs the sacraments. In this way, he brings Christ to the Church in a way different than any other person can.
Although priests have a special role in the Church, this does not mean that they are “better” Catholics than everyone else. Laypeople are called to holiness just as much as priests and religious are. However, the priest still plays a unique and important role, and his role should not be underestimated.
In the Roman Catholic Church, most priests are celibate. This allows them to serve God without the distractions of marriage and family. In the Eastern Catholic Churches, married men can be ordained (although no priest is allowed to marry after ordination). Both are equally valid traditions and ways of living priesthood.
There is some controversy over whether single life should be considered a vocation. Unlike married people, people in religious life, and priesthood, single people do not take vows. Traditional vocations have a permanent character. Those who have taken vows to marriage or religious or priestly vocations have committed to something, and they should be dedicated to that vocation. In contrast, many single people hope to leave the single state, and they are free to do so. Single life is characterized by a radical openness to where God might call a person in the future.
Although single life does not share the characteristics of the other vocations, God still may call people to be single. Some men and women may discover that their single state is a blessing from God. They may discern that God is calling them to live as single people for the rest of their lives, and that God is calling them to serve the Church in the freedom that characterizes single life.
A lesser known vocation is consecrated virginity, in which a woman is consecrated to the Church and to Jesus as someone who will remain single for the rest of her life. Like a sister or nun, she makes a commitment to her vocation. Unlike a sister or nun, she lives in the world, has a regular job, and provides for herself without the support of a religious order. This vocation is rapidly growing in the Church today.
Living Our Vocations
In any of these states of life God calls us to build up society in a manner that reflects the love of God. This is our general vocation as Christians. Even through work God wants us to build his kingdom. God calls us to meaningful work that brings value to humanity; work that does not exploit people for personal gain. In your occupation, ask yourself each day how your work will bring glory to God and help people rather than take advantage of others for personal profit.
Each vocation requires some sacrifice to die to self in the service of others. Perhaps this is the true meaning of vocation. Through serving others we act as God to others and we become more and more like Christ each day. While we might sin and fall short of what God desires for us, God still calls us to faithfully live our vocations in the hope that we will be with God in heaven some day.