05 April 2013

Vocations vs Vocational Paths

[[Hi Sister O'Neal, You wrote that vocational paths change but the call to authentic humanity does not. That's very different than what I was taught as a child. The Sisters told me that everyone was chosen for a particular state of life and that to miss one's call could have dire consequences. I thought this was church teaching.]]

No, it is not church teaching but it is one interpretation of the doctrine (and Scriptural datum) that each life is an obedient response (made up of innumerable obedient responses to and disobedient rejections of) the call or klesis of God. It was the interpretation probably made most well known by St Alphonsus Liguori. My own sense is that this idea is not only theologically difficult to sustain but that pastorally it can be and has often been downright destructive. Too many times people live their entire lives thinking they have "missed" their vocation because they married instead of becoming a religious or a priest (or vice versa!) etc. When this happens the ramifications are huge and wide-ranging, from quiet (or not-so quiet) despair to resentment to overcompensation to leaving the faith altogether and a thousand other things besides --- all of which affect many people besides the one whose vocation it is.

It also has contributed to faulty notions of discernment --- as though discernment is about figuring out a hidden puzzle entitled "What God wills for me!" It's sometimes approached as though there is only a single valid answer and if one misses the mark then one has missed any chance of happiness or holiness. A corollary would be that what God wills for x is sometimes better than what God wills for y --- as though God calls some to second-class vocations, etc. Moreover, one can begin to think that perhaps God has decided what one's vocation will be even if one does not care for the "choice" God has made for them! One might want (and be well-suited) to be College professor but come somehow to believe God has "chosen" the vocation of hermit for them instead --- and done so from the beginning! The result then can be frustration, resentment, and a life lived less well or in a less wholehearted and freely embraced partnership with God than otherwise.

So, I approach the question of vocations differently and I think, more adequately from the standpoint of pastoral theology (and of  Scripture and systematics as well). My sense is that God calls every person to a full and exhaustive humanity, to an authentic existence with, in, and through Godself and that this call is something which is mediated to us in innumerable ways at every point of our lives. The responses we make and actually become will allow for -- and even more or less require --- certain vocational pathways as most suitable for their fulfillment. Still, vocational paths can and do change, not only with the choices we make or fail to make, but with changes in our circumstances, growth, healing, and other factors.

What does not change is the continually proffered invitation (or summons!) to authentic humanity or abundant life which is given by God at every moment. God's invitation here is always creative, and always brings all of the elements of our lives together in fulfilling ways which will glorify God and serve others. Meanwhile, in this view discernment ceases to be a matter of trying to figure out God's hidden puzzle or of trying to find the single way of life chosen for us from eternity and instead becomes a matter of answering how best to become the persons we feel called to be with God and for others at any given moment --- though also with a view towards overarching paths toward this end.

To summarize then,  the Vocation (I think of it as vocation with a capital V) never changes and cannot be "missed" except to the degree it is avoided or rejected at each moment and over a lifetime. One is called to authentic humanity, to collaborate with God in the creation and perfection of something unique and awesome and this call is ALWAYS present as part of one's very being. The vocational pathways one chooses as primary ways to respond to this "Vocation" are another matter and may change over a lifetime. Each is associated with grace for the one called and for those she will serve but they remain secondary to the primary call to authentic humanity.

I hope this is helpful.