The Four Catholic Vocations

The Christian Vocation

As Christians, we are all called by God to believe in him. This was imprinted into our soul when God created us. With belief comes love for God. After love comes obedience in the form of worshipping God regularly through prayer, reducing or even eliminating sins from daily life, and expressing God’s love to others through service. All this can be simplified into one word: holiness. When we love God, we want to please him. Holiness is the way to please God. So all Christians have a universal call to holiness. This universal call is really a vocation. It’s that deep feeling of knowing ultimate happiness comes through God. This is the Christian vocation. All are called to this vocation.

In the Catholic Church, we have three more vocations: marriage, priesthood, and consecrated life. Compared to the universal Christian vocation, these can be considered sub-vocations. They are specialties within the Christian vocation or different ways of living out that universal Christian vocation.

Marriage

In marriage, a man or woman gives him- or herself completely to their spouse and children. Their goal is to lead their spouse and any children to God. They watch for sin in their spouse’s life, giving suggestions and strategies to improve. They educate their children in the faith, giving them the knowledge and skills to become and remain holy throughout their life. A big part of this involves being a good example, so the person has to be holy themselves to succeed in this vocation.

Marriage is the natural vocation. In addition to the love for him, God also plants in the human soul the desire to marry. Everyone is born with this desire. It is in our nature. Every human at some point feels attraction towards another, even priests. Sometimes life choices will lead a person in a different direction, but that desire remains. Thus, marriage is the easiest vocation to choose. On their own, most people will just fall into marriage eventually. For most people, it is only through a special calling from God that a person deliberately chooses not to marry. This call or vocation can be to the priesthood or consecrated life. Being special callings, they are not natural but supernatural vocations.

Priesthood

In the priesthood, the priest gives himself completely to the Church. He is obedient to his superiors, the bishops, cardinals, and Pope, following whatever orders they give. Many priests are faced with being reassigned to another parish. They can, of course, ask for a different assignment, but if their superior insists, they must comply. If they disagree with the overall Church in a particular matter of faith or morals, they can question it but eventually must acquiesce to the Church’s viewpoint. This is a sacrifice for the priest, requiring complete trust in God to lead him to happiness.

In most cases, priests serve in a parish. There can be other roles, including teaching at universities, traveling the world giving speeches, and serving religious communities, among many others. In all cases, the priest is responsible for leading their flock, whoever it is, to holiness and to happiness with God. This is no different than a married person who must lead their spouse and children to God except it is a much greater responsibility. Instead of being responsible to one family, a priest may be responsible for hundreds or thousands of families. For this reason priests have to be very holy, comfortable socializing, and extremely patient.

Consecrated Life

In consecrated life, a man or woman gives themselves completely to God, usually with the support of a religious community. There are even more forms of consecrated life than the priesthood from cloistered communities, where the members live away from the world many times under a specific “religious rule” in constant prayer and worship to God, to communities that work more in the world, serving the poor and needy or other good causes. Some individuals choose to be hermits, living much of life on their own with their gaze constantly on God. Consecrated virgins perhaps have the greatest freedom, living in the world, many times supporting themselves through their own work while serving others however they feel most called.

Whatever the case may be, these people make it their life’s work to seek heaven on earth. Of course, it won’t be fully realized until death, but they can expedite their path towards heaven through a greater focus on relationship with God on earth. In addition to serving their fellow brothers or sisters in their community and serving others through missions, their prayer offerings to God save countless souls in mysterious ways. Their life too is one of sacrifice.

Single Life?

All three sub-vocations involve a complete giving of self, a sacrifice for the good of others, but where does this leave single life? In God’s eyes, single life is a temporary state. In addition to the universal Christian vocation, God calls everyone to either marriage, the priesthood, or consecrated life. However, God also allows for free will on earth. A person might choose to ignore God’s call. They might be so distracted with their interests, they never even hear the call. Not hearing the call is not always the individual’s fault.

Other people around the person might prevent them from following the call. They might be born with or develop impediments that prevent them from following God’s call. Physically, they could be disabled or develop illnesses that prevent them from following the call. For example, maybe a man is paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident. According to our Catholic faith, he cannot marry. Maybe God calls a person to the priesthood, but they develop chronic anxiety and are unable to handle the high pressure of being a priest. Spiritually, a person might pray and pray for their calling, yet never feel a deep calling towards any vocation, leaving them wandering throughout their life. There could be even less unique cases, like an individual just never finding the right person to marry.

We don’t know why God allows these things to happen, but some people just never end up discovering or following their calling. Ideally, everyone would eventually choose one of the three sub-vocations, but some people just never get there because of their own actions, the actions of others, or any number of impediments.

As Catholics we have to understand the ideal and trust God to lead us there. For those who have been searching for their vocation without success or whose life already prevents them from choosing a sub-vocation, know that only the universal Christian vocation is required to live in heaven for all eternity with God. God knows if you are doing your best and have no fault. Trust that he knows this and be at peace.

I am in this situation myself. My health is sufficiently bad to prevent me from making the sacrifices necessary for any of the sub-vocations. For a number of years, I was a wanderer, finding some attractive things about all three sub-vocations but never feeling a deep calling towards one or another. In the end, it was for the best. I developed health problems which are not compatible with a sub-vocation. My bad health is an impediment I have learned to accept. Life on earth is not perfect. Sometimes we have to look towards heaven for our happiness, not at anything of this world.

To those who have never thought about a vocation, there is always time to start praying and discerning. Talk to friends, family, and priests for advice. Contact your vocation director. God knows what will make you most happy on earth and is calling you to that happiness. Of course, you may have impediments or other things preventing you from choosing a sub-vocation, but you won’t know if you’ve never thought about it deeply for an extended time.

May God be with you in all your decisions in life,
Jared

Using the Rosary for Discernment

The Rosary is a special meditative prayer in which five mysteries are examined in detail and reflected on (CCC 2708, definition of Rosary p. 897). The hope is that after the prayer the person will understand the mysteries just a little more, gain new appreciation for all the good things Jesus and the saints did, and see a few things they need to improve in their life. Examining the mysteries is really just discernment. When we meditate on the mysteries, we are asking God to enlighten us on something about the mysteries. We hope to learn something new after the prayer. This discernment can be directed toward anything we wonder about though. By following the same form of the Rosary, we can ask God for help in discerning other things besides the significance of the mysteries.

The Rosary form has three parts: the opening, the meditation, and the closing. The opening prayers focus us on God, get us into the prayer mood. When our mind is in the right place, we are ready to meditate. After the meditation, we say a few closing prayers to Mary and God to help the meditation bear fruit in our lives. Below is a short list of the prayers for each part:

The Opening Prayers
Sign of the Cross
Apostle’s Creed
Our Father
3 Hail Marys
Glory Be

The Meditation Prayers
Repeat for each mystery (5 times):
Our Father
10 Hail Marys
Glory Be
Fatima Prayer

The Closing Prayers
Hail, Holy Queen
Prayer to God for our meditation to bear fruit (O God, whose Only Begotten Son…)

While keeping this overall structure intact, the Rosary can be made into a meditation for discernment with just a few changes. No changes are needed for the opening prayers. They are a reiteration of our Catholic beliefs and get us in the spiritual mood to meditate. The closing prayers need to be changed to ask God and Mary for help with whatever information we seek or decision we need to make. This is the end result of discernment, to enlighten us as to what would be best for us. While specific prayers can be written down, it is easy enough to make up the prayers as you go. The only structure you have to maintain at the end is to say a prayer to Mary and then to God. To change the meditation part, split up the overall discernment question into a few parts.

Instead of meditating on a mystery, each decade of the Rosary can be used to meditate on one option in a choice or question you have. The Rosary has five decades, but you can change that to any number depending on what you want to pray about. Discernment is most popularly used for choosing a vocation: priesthood, consecrated life, or marriage. In this case, you would reduce the Rosary from five decades to three decades. During the meditation you would imagine yourself in each vocation, examining what you would like and dislike about each one. For the closing prayers, you would ask for guidance from Mary and God. Discernment is not restricted to vocations though. It can be used for any major decision, such as choosing which job offer to accept.

Sometimes you might want to meditate about just one thing. In that case, you can split the one thing into a few parts. Continuing with the idea of vocations, say you discerned that you had a calling for consecrated life. You could then meditate on a few different religious orders that seem to be the best fit. Each decade of the prayer you would meditate on one of the possible religious orders. After some dedication to this praying, you would be able to whittle down the list of possible religious orders to just one or two. So the Rosary structure is great for discerning a vocation*, but you can discern other things too.

The Rosary meditation can be used to aid an examination of conscience. In this case, you would look at all your recurring sins and think about each one in detail, the when, where, and how you committed those sins. This would help during a later Sacrament of Penance but also might give you some clues as to what changes you need to make in your life to avoid future sins. You could go even deeper with this practice by focusing on just a single sin you struggle with. Maybe there are certain occasions you usually commit sins during. You could then meditate (one decade) on each of those occasions with the goal to improve your actions when those occasions happen again. You would not simply be thinking about what you should do. Instead, you would invite God, with Mary’s intercessions, to help make these decisions.

The Rosary can be used as part of thanksgiving for all the good things God has done for you on a particular day. Meditate on all good things that happened before, during, and after work. Those were the blessings God gave you that day. This is discernment too. You are discerning how God helped you in your life. The closing prayers would be of thanksgiving towards Mary for her prayers on your behalf, to God directly for what he has done for you.

The possibilities are really endless. Anything you can think of where discernment might help can be thought about deeply in meditation with God and Mary’s help using the structure of the Rosary. The Rosary isn’t required for discernment, of course, but I have found it an easy, prayerful way to help me think deeply about my life and decide on any changes I need to make. During my normal prayer, my mind tends to get bombarded by outside thoughts. The Rosary is one of the few prayers that keeps my mind on track most of the time.

*Note: Discerning a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life involves more than just your own personal prayer. Please contact the vocations director in your diocese if you feel called to one of these vocations. You want to get all the support you can before making such an important decision.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared