This week, the Church invites us all to think in a focused way about the grace of vocation. The occasion provides once again an opportunity to ponder the call to holiness that Christ extends to every member of the Church. We call this invitation the universal call to holiness, because no human being is excluded from the divine purpose realized in Christ. The Savior, then, calls everyone to imitate his perfection of charity. We rejoice in this vocation not only because it ensures that, when lived out in truth, we will inherit heaven but also because it constitutes here and now the fulfillment of our human destiny and nature.
The word “vocation” comes from the Latin verb, vocare, which means “to call.” What is interesting to observe, the word also carries the connotation: to call someone by name. For example, in the Gospel of Matthew, we read that Jesus “saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them” (Matthew 4:21). In the Latin version of the Bible, the last phrase reads, “et vocavit eos.” Since that call came from the same God who first called light out of darkness and created form out of chaos, we are not surprised to learn that these two brothers left their boats and followed him, as the Evangelist pointedly remarks, “immediately” (Matthew 4: 22). James and John, along with those other brothers, Peter and Andrew, received what, today, the Church calls the grace of a special vocation within the Church.
The Savior continues to call men and woman to follow him by building upon their original baptismal consecration through the more intimate consecration of the evangelical counsels. The kind of life that Jesus himself lived provides the model. The Incarnate Son of God choose not only to dwell among us as a man but also to observe a particular manner of life.
First, Christ chose to remain a poor man. He was born in a stable, lived in what is still the small town of Nazareth, worked as a carpenter in the house of Joseph, and during the course of his public life, maintained a poor life style. Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us that Christ's voluntary renunciation of material goods allowed him to devote all his time to preaching God's truth.
Second, Christ remained a virgin, and so revealed that the celibate state when consecrated to God gives glory to God. Just as he realized the perfection of every virtue, Christ lived his entire life in perfect chastity. By not taking a wife, moreover, Christ demonstrated that he had come to join to himself one spotless Bride, which is the Church.
Third and what most distinguishes the life of Christ is that he fulfilled perfectly the will of his Heavenly Father. Christ manifests the power of obedience on the cross. When he utters his final words, “It is finished,” Christ announces that the world has once again been opened up to divine love. Sin did not prevail, for God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8: 31).
Those who promise to observe the evangelical counsels are called consecrated persons, and they come in many different forms and shapes. The Catechism compares the variety of those who live out the counsels, whether in community or in solitude, to a “wonderful and wide-spreading tree.” What is most important to remember, however, consecrated life remains a grace in the Church.
Vocation also points to the sacrament of apostolic ministry, especially that of the diaconate and of the priesthood. Deacons and priests also imitate the life that Christ himself lived. They promise obedience to the local bishop and are bound to observe evangelical poverty, though not to hold all their goods in common. In the Latin Church, priests and some permanent deacons promise to remain celibate, whereas those deacons who are married recommit themselves to the practice of conjugal chastity. Like the call to consecrated life, the vocation to the priesthood comes only as a gift of grace.
Any person who today asked about a vocation would soon hear the word “discernment. They would be encouraged to scrutinize themselves about whether or not to embrace consecrated life or to prepare for priestly ordination. This kind of self-questioning is important, but it only accounts for a small part of what makes up a vocation. Above all, every vocation is a gift from God, a call to live out one's Christian life in a special way. Who could imitate Christ's own form of life unless Christ himself made it possible? Which man could fulfill Christ's own ministry unless Christ himself gave him the grace? What is our response? Pray for vocations!
Dominican Father Romanus Cessario is a senior writer at the Register.
- January 10-16, 1999