Do you have a clear sense of calling?
How do you view your work or relationships in relation to God’s purposes for your life?
Questions of calling are at the heart of our Seminar on Vocation, Faith and the Professions and our Seminar on Vocation Across the Lifespan. Both seminars are working to develop a thicker theology of vocation that takes into account:
- the nature of the divine-human relationship
- doctrines of creation and providence
- particularities of professional life
- maturation from childhood to the elder years
- constraints such as socioeconomic class and educational opportunities
Kathleen A. Cahalan, director of the Collegeville Institute Seminars, has developed five points on the theology of vocation that is emerging in our project. These characteristics of God’s call can be guideposts for our journey of discerning what is and is not vocation:
- Vocation is relational and dialogical. God is the caller of vocation to whom we respond through an ongoing dialogue. God’s call is commonly experienced as an inner voice, as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as the guiding care of divine providence, or through the mediation of other people who call us to service.
- Vocation relates to our whole life and encompasses a multiplicity of callings. Vocation is not limited to one part of life (work) or one kind of work (ministry) or one lifestyle (vowed celibacy). For each of us, vocation encompasses who I am, what I do, and how I live. It is a dynamic reality that changes throughout our life, not something determined at the outset.
- Vocation is both general and specific. The general call to discipleship is shared by all Christians. But vocation also refers to the specific ways we each live out God’s call: in relationships of marriage or the single life, through work or service, in the particular communities where we live.
- Vocation is a lifelong reality. We are called from the time we are children and youth, and this call continues through the end of our life. Vocational questions are not just for young adults discerning school, work or relationships; all of us face questions of calling at each evolving stage of the lifespan.
- Vocation involves service in community. Callings are given by God for the good of the community, not for the gain of the individual. Vocations require sacrifice, obedience, and attentive listening to the needs of others and the world.
But the work of defining and deepening our understanding of vocation is not always a smooth road. There can be plenty of potholes along the way:
- Suffering and struggles may reshape our callings in challenging ways.
- Callings change or end, and we have to grieve the losses that come from transition.
- The realities of obligations and responsibilities restrict how we can live out our callings.
The idea of being called – by God, through others, for others – is a counter-cultural concept in our hyper-individualized society. How would you define vocation for our church and world today? Which of these 5 characteristics speaks to what you know about vocation from your own life?
Image: Alves,Dominic. Winding Road. Available from: Flickr Commons.