Friday, October 30, 2009


I recently heard that there is no shortage of vocations in the Catholic Church—in the United States or any place else. What we are seeing is a shortage of vocational discernment. Not enough people ask themselves what God wants them to do with their lives.

Discernment—not recruitment—should be central to vocations efforts today. And personal vocation should be at the heart of it.

In religious talk, the word vocation refers to three different things:

First is the common Christian vocation, which comes with baptism and is shared by all members of the Church. It consists in the commitment of faith and what follows from it: loving and serving God above all else, loving and serving neighbor as oneself, and collaborating in the redemptive work of Christ, which is the mission of the Church.

The second meaning is state in life. A "state" puts some flesh on the bones of the common Christian vocation. It is a broad, overarching commitment to a particular Christian lifestyle. As such, a state in life sets someone choosing it on a path that will shape his character through the countless choices and actions required to follow it to the end. The clerical life, the consecrated life, the state of marriage, and the single lay state in the world are states in life.

Third is personal vocation. It is the unique combination of commitments, relationships, obligations, opportunities, strengths, and weaknesses—understood as representing God’s will—in and through which the common Christian vocation and a state in life are expressed by someone (priest, religious, layperson) trying to know and live the life God has in mind for him. It is the singular, unrepeatable role in his redemptive plan that God intends for each of us.

"Every life is a vocation," Pope John Paul II says. And so it is—a unique, personal vocation.