The Facts of Life Series: Calling & Vocation
Who hasn’t looked at the star-studded night sky and wondered why it is there? And, who can think about the infinitesimal intricacies of organic life or the expanding universe and not be confounded by the vast immensity and complexity of reality and its possible purpose? Who can think about the dawn of time and its relentless march to the future and not be curious about the point of the cosmos and its plan? And, who does not seek some source for sentient human life and some plan for the very nature of reason’s order and power in the minds of mankind?
Is there a point, a purpose for all this? And what are the practical plans arising from this primary purpose of such cosmic proportions? All these questions have challenged and intrigued mankind across history’s centuries and civilization’s epochs. These questions and others of a similar scale and import have led many to seek answers, to seek the truth about existence’s ultimate point, its primary purpose and the many practical purposes and plans that arise from just such an ultimate reason for all existence.
As Catholics, most of us have grappled with such musings and questions. And we know there are definitive and provable answers to these questions. We know the truth. Truth that is proven by reason, as well as by science and revelation, where appropriate and required. We know the broad, comprehensive purposes and the practical plans arising from God’s intentions and actions on a cosmic and on a worldly scale. We know the role these larger purposes have in our more immediate and temporal activities, in our more practical plans and personal pursuits. And, it is precisely here, on the level of our personal lives, we face the real reality of enacting God’s general plan and purpose in our particular life and in our uniquely individual way.
For He has a plan for mankind and a part for each of us to play in that plan. A role designed just for each one of us. For our particular talents and interests, our unique personalities and dispositions, in our particular place in space and time. For each of us is unique, and that means each of us can only truly fulfill our part in His plan in the personal way we are constituted and configured, gifted and inclined.
In general, as His disciples, we are all called to strive for greater holiness and intimacy with God, to become more moral, more spiritual, more Christ-like. To become more informed, more committed, more involved in the work of His Kingdom, and more sensitive to His leading and His love. But we should also seek His personal plan for our life, His particular calling for each of us in our individual lives.
For our usefulness in the work of God and our regular intimacy with Him are inherently interwoven, linked in a manner that is a mundane, yet miraculous reality, an everyday epiphanic encounter with God. For He loves us. And He wants us to know that, not just about that. For love is not really just an idea. Love is an experience, an experience between beings that encompasses every facet and feature of our natures, an experience of our minds and our emotions, our hearts and our heads. Also, it is not just a mountaintop experience of emotional and intellectual import and inspiration, but a mundane, mutual comfort arising from an abiding intimacy, certainty and familiarity with God. For true love, real love, is truly both inspiring and intimate, fulfilling and familiar.
Such love is a crucial component of His plan. For we are each a means and an end. He carries out His plan with us and through us. But, He also seeks personal intimacy with each one of us as an end in itself. We are a means through which He pursues His purpose and plans. And, we are the end in which His plan is personally fulfilled in our relational intimacy with Him.
So, in the work of God’s kingdom and His world, we each have our unique role, our particular place. Given this emphasis on the particularity of our individual plan, we must understand that such a plan begins with our understanding of what a real, practical calling is, and what our particular calling might be. Recognizing this particularity, how we each may discern such a personal calling and its particular parameters becomes a practical and pressing need.
Primarily our individual calling arises from our deep devotion to God, our desire to discern His calling and our intimacy and our maturing relationship with Him through which we may most earnestly seek and most clearly discern His will for each of us. For He is our father. Our perfect father. Our perfectly loving father. And, as our perfectly loving Father, He wants the best for us. For as Jesus reminds us, “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him.”
So, if we each seek our Father’s help to become a true disciple, if we cultivate an abiding intimate relationship with Him, if we regularly seek His guidance and direction about our role in His general plan and the sum and substance of our particular calling, would not our loving and perfect Father respond to such a ready and relentless request? He would. For what father would refuse such a request from his child, regardless of their age? When any child lovingly and regularly seeks to know their father’s plans and cultivates a character disposed to doing his bidding, they embody the very heart and mind of their father. So, it is with God.
Yet, notice how much of this is rooted in a developmental process, in a relational context, in an attitude and way of being. These are all crucial components, but they lack the specific content, the calling itself. For all we can do, when it comes to discerning and enacting our personal calling, is to be open to God’s direction, to be willing to do as He commands and to be reliant on Him to empower and enable each of us to do so.
For the crucial component of a true calling is that it originates with God. It is God who discloses His will to us, His personal plan for each of us. And, so we seek and wait upon an epiphanic encounter, a spiritual revelation, a mystical moment of deep intimacy with God. But, we also use our reason, our common sense and the wisdom of our family and friends, our confidants and our priests. For revelatory events are often grounded in reason and common sense. After all, we do not need a searing spiritual experience to love one another or to comfort the hurting.
For it is God who reveals His calling to us who seek and who wait. For it is God who provides the degree of specificity and clarity He deems necessary, given our maturity and sophistication. For it is God, our perfect Father, who creates opportunities for our service, who enlightens our minds and empowers our efforts, who provides for our tangible and intangible needs and leads us through the challenges we encounter externally and internally as we pursue His plan. And, it is God who first seeks an abiding loving intimacy with us for the sheer joy of our company. And secondly, it is God who shows us our role in His purpose and plan.
While this process of discerning our calling is an ever-present aspect of our lives as His disciples, across all ages and stages, it is of particular prominence during adolescence and early adult life. For this is the time when career decisions are the most important practical question confronting each young man and woman and each parent. A calling and career in this formative time can even be considered the primary question of this developmental stage.
So, it is of great importance to be deliberately developing your child’s relationship with God, not just their character and the routines and disciplines of the Church. At these ages and in these stages, the future presents them with the widest opportunity, a realm of the most expansive possibilities that only the young may possess.
God can do many things in terms of seeking and pursuing a calling at any age, but the young have not the limits of years of significant decision making, decisions about educational and vocational, marital and even geographical choices. The sooner each of us sincerely seeks God’s calling, the sooner we will each receive it. And, this is particularly important to the young.
As someone who became an existential atheist at that stage and who never really considered the possibility of a God who had a plan for my life until I was forty, I know firsthand the regrets of lost time and the thrill and high adventure of living for His calling. He does not merely give you a job to do. He does not tell you this and leave you to do it on your own.
For His way is to accompany you in a quest, not simply to assign you a job. For His calling is found and grounded in His abiding presence each and every step along this great adventure. For your calling is embedded in your personal path of continual intimacy with God and in your concomitant utility in the work of His kingdom. Could such a life lived intimately with God and dedicated to His divinely appointed purpose and plan be more abundant?
And, so it is, if you seek it persistently, just as He promised.
We also recommend Mr. Cronin’s latest book, The World According to God: The Whole Truth About Life and Living. It is available from your favorite bookstore and through Sophia Institute Press.