‘God has created me to do him some definite service.’ (Blessed John Henry Newman)
Within the Church ‘vocation’ is used in various ways, so let’s clarify those different meanings as they apply to Christian living. Everybody has a vocation and discovering that vocation is a key step on the journey of faith.
The fundamental vocation is the call to be baptised or, for somebody baptised as a child, the call to affirm that baptism personally. To be baptised is to accept Christ’s call to follow him in a new way of life. This is the way of holiness; it involves loving attention to the needs of others and to Christ, strengthened by the Holy Spirit and living as an active member of the Body of Christ, the Church. As a congress of church leaders put it: “Holiness is the universal vocation of every person. It is the main road onto which converge all the little paths that are particular vocations.” The root meaning of vocation is calling and the first calling shared by all Christians is holiness as a member of the Church.
Once a person takes seriously their personal call to holiness, then the other dimensions of Christian vocation are opened up. Another dimension is the state of life to which Christ calls people. There are four basic states of life within the Catholic Church: marriage, consecrated life, priesthood and the single state as a lay person. Each of these is demanding and people need help to discern which of these Christ is calling them to.
The final dimension of Christian vocation is the work that people do, whether that work is being a farm worker, a chief executive or a home maker. Vocation as applied to certain jobs is still in common use but for the Christian, any work that conforms to the law of God can be vocational, not just work in the public sector of education or health: a married woman working in a factory or a layman committed to celibacy who works in the media. The work is vocational if it is carried out as an expression of the person’s quest for holiness and in a way that is compatible with their state of life.
So an individual vocation is the integration of these dimensions in the life of one person. Over time, the different elements can vary; so, for example, a married person may spend some years a widow or widower. The factor that unites all these dimensions into a whole is love: ‘Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus.’ (Saint Teresa of Calcutta)