Meaning of Vocation

June 8, 2009 § Leave a comment

Think of a musician tuning his lyre. By his skill he adjusts high notes to low and intermediate notes to the rest, and produces a series of harmonies. So too the wisdom of God holds the world like a lyre and joins things in the air to those on earth, and things in heaven to those in the air, and brings each part into harmony with the whole. By his decree and will he regulates them all to produce the beauty and harmony of a single, well-ordered universe….

To illustrate this profound mystery, let us take the example of a choir of many singers. A choir is composed of a variety of men, women and children, of both old and young. Under the direction of one conductor, each sings in the way that is natural for him: men with men’s voices, boys with boys’ voices, old people with old voices, young people with young voices. Yet all of them produce a single harmony. Or consider the example of our soul. It moves our senses according to their several functions so that in the presence of a single object they all act simultaneously: the eye sees, the ear hears, the hand touches, the nose smells, the tongue tastes, and often the other parts of the body act as well as, for example, the feet may walk.

This…gives some idea of how the whole universe is governed. The Word of God has but to give a gesture of command and everything falls into place; each creature performs its own proper function, and all together constitute one single harmonious order.

(St. Athanasius, bishop)

I know many people, from a broad spectrum of life, who pray fervently and intensely for God to “show them the way” and “reveal their vocation to them”. At times, I have prayed for the same. But over the past few months I have come to the realization that we cannot rely on God to reach down from Heaven and physically open doors for us; we really have to take a step in faith, reach out, and touch the doorknob ourselves so that God can act. Perhaps it is not the right door for us, but through faith we know that (1) God can slam the door shut if it is not meant to be and (2) God can make a brand new harmony out of a wrong note.

It seems that there are two kinds of vocation, one more ongoing than the other. We all know about Vocation (capital “V”). The two Vocations are the priesthood or the religious life as a consecrated brother or sister, and the Vocation to married life. Those who are called to these vocations by Christ Himself and choose to follow that call surely make an admirable and beautiful choice. They inspire their family and friends, and spur them on to more intense discernment of their own Vocations. But the discernment process for a Vocation is a one-time event. Maybe it takes years to discern it, but eventually the period of discernment ends. There is a terminus to the uncertainty.

There is another kind of vocation – one without a real terminus except death – which is vocation (little “v”). Each and every one of us is living his or her vocation every moment of the day. Our vocation is to Love with Christ’s Love, and be fitting windows “through which the light of Christ can shine” as Pope Benedict said in his book God is Near Us. The question we need to ask ourselves is: how can I better live this vocation? We live this vocation, for example,  through our daily work, through our relationships, through our hobbies, likes and dislikes, through our choices of entertainment, and through our treatment of ourselves and the world around us. Thus the discernment of this vocation never really ends, and the acts of faith required of the soul are innumerable.

First, we live our vocation to Love through our daily work by devoting ourselves completely to the task at hand, to which we believe God has called us at this moment in time. Maybe that task is as delicate as performing a brain surgery, or as mundane as mopping the kitchen floor, doing homework, or filing paperwork. Nevertheless, that task can be done in union with Love.

Second, we live our vocation to Love through our relationships. Who has God, in His infinite wisdom in orchestrating the cosmic harmony, placed in our lives? Our family, friends, coworkers, and even enemies. The people we pass on the street on the way to lunch. The question we need to ask ourselves in the presence of each human being is “how may I serve this child of God?” Service comes in diverse forms, from a mere smile to the greatest acts of charity that require a sacrifice of time.

On the flip side — and this is an aspect of relationships that can be difficult — is the responsibility to ourselves to choose to cultivate good friendships. Like it or not, those around us positively or negatively affect the formation of our own character, so we need to choose our friends wisely. While we place ourselves at the service of all, we need to realize that friendship is something special and we must be particular about which friendships we cultivate.

Third, we live our vocation through how we choose to spend our spare time. This includes things like hobbies, likes and dislikes. Do we even place our hobbies at the service of Love? or do we choose to give our hobbies a more selfish spin? Every hobby can be used for selfish or for charitable purposes. For example, one can have the hobby of baking, as I do. Sometimes, I choose to bake a dessert simple for the pleasure of trying something new. This, as much as I believe in the “simple pleasures”, is more selfish that baking a dessert both for the sake of trying something new AND in order to bring something into work for everyone to enjoy with their coffee. I also play the piano: I could play the piano simply to soothe my own feelings and help put my soul and mind in order, OR I could play the piano for my own pleasure AND to perform and give the joy of music to others who may not have the time to cultivate the same talent. Any hobby can be analyzed similarly.

Another aspect of living one’s vocation in our free time involves our choices of entertainment. Music, television, and movies can be either uplifting or drag us down; it is our responsibility to choose forms of entertainment that are more uplifting. Note that I am not saying you can’t watch movies or television, or listen to music, nor am I saying that one must only watch “moves about saints” or listen to medieval chant. All these things can be good for the soul (enjoyed in moderation of course). But prudence is required.

Fourth, we live our vocation through our treatment of our bodies. As temples of the Holy Spirit and instruments of Divine Love, how do we care for ourselves? We are all busy and can find excuses for not fitting health into our schedules, but we need to understand that we have a responsibility to care for our bodies and that in fact we may sin (though not grievously we hope) if we do not. Exercise, healthy eating, not overindulging, making certain we get enough sleep to perform our daily tasks of Love well; these are all facets of caring for our bodies that we should not neglect.

Fifth, we live our vocation through stewardship of Creation. Some people today take this too far and make a god of nature and the earth (just as some people make a god of their bodies) and break the first commandment. However, it is important not to go to the other extreme either. The fact is: at Creation, God gave the world and everything in it to Adam and Eve. He placed it under their stewardship and the stewardship of their children, to care for and use responsibly. Today, this means recycling, using earth’s resources responsibly, and maybe spending a little more time shopping at secondhand stores rather than buying things new.

That said, I continue to pray for you all as you continue to live your vocations to Love, and ask your prayers for me, as I live mine. Blessings!

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