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

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The Importance of Chastity

Our current culture laughs at the idea of chastity saying things like, “How dare you limit sex!” or “We have a right for sex whenever we want.” The Catechism briefly describes how disordered use of sex is selfish (CCC 2351), but it doesn’t describe the negative effects a lack of chastity causes in our culture. We have many examples of the negative effects in our society because of its obsession with sex. At the same time, we have very few examples of the positive effects chastity brings.

In America, children and adults are bombarded by sex several times a day every day. It’s in our entertainment and in the media from movies to books to the daily news. Even many commercials are filled with sex. Over the years, this has created a society where many people are filled with lust. Because of this, much of the population makes decisions based on which choice will lead them closer to sex. It’s particularly bad for men, which I focus on here. Most of these examples can apply to women as well.

In our society, romance is equated with sexual relations. The romantic movies show the same old story with people dating, holding hands, kissing, and having sex. Then the movie ends. Sex is shown as the goal of every relationship, when it’s really a very small part of true romance. In a typical marriage, sex is only 1% of their time spent together. The rest of the time is nonsexual. The marital act is such a tiny part of the relationship, to focus on it is to miss the majority of the relationship.

So many men are driven by lust, their marriages greatly suffer. Many times the only thing the husband has in common with his wife is the marital act. The rest of the time they live separate lives. Even from the beginning, the relationship faces problems. The husband doesn’t truly love his wife, only her body. He showered her with positive attention, praised her, brought her gifts, offered her help when in need, and was willing to talk to her for hours about her feelings. He had no real interest in these things. He was only using her.

Men in this situation are incapable of being intimate without sex. They can’t have long conversations with their wife. They can’t spend time together in silence. They get frustrated with handholding or kissing if it doesn’t lead to the marital act. In short, they are unable to see the whole person, so the man appears two-faced. When he desires her body, he is very nice to his wife, does everything she says until he gets what he wants. Once his desire is sated, he’s back to his old self, not interested in spending time with her until lust sets in again. Many wives don’t see this going on. Having no idea why their husband is so different by the day, they can easily fall into depression and despair. These ups and downs are devastating to the relationship. Strong marriages need consistency.

These men don’t care about their children either. They will continually complain about having to go to school events, babysit their children, help with homework, change diapers or anything else for the good of their children. They don’t care about their children. Their sole interest is sex. So they are not a family man and don’t really love their wife either. They have no care for their marriage vows. Since physical attraction is the only thing keeping the marriage together, the relationship will turn sour once the wife starts aging. No longer attracted to her, the husband will leave for a younger woman.

American culture’s obsession with sex doesn’t just affect marriages. It also affects platonic relationships. Men are trained to see women as sex objects, so they are constantly evaluating all the women they come across for attractiveness. When a man sees an attractive woman, he rushes toward satisfy his sinful desires. If she denies him or doesn’t move fast enough, he is gone to find another woman.

Whenever he has to work with a woman maybe as co-workers or volunteers, sin is on his mind. He is unable to have any kind of meaningful relationship with her because he can only see relationships with women as the potential for sex. He doesn’t know how to just be friends. When a woman thanks or hugs him, he is thinking she is attracted to him. When he tries to take the next step and she declines, he gets angry and spreads lies about her to others. When this man meets a woman he’s instantly thinking about how to manipulate her when he should focus on just being friends. Romance will happen later on its own. There is no rushing it, but he is impatient. He sees no value in waiting.

All these negative effects and many more are a result of a society that celebrates sex, but a society that celebrated chastity would avoid most of these problems. There would still be some bad apples, but if people were constantly encouraged to value the whole person rather than just their looks, we would be in a much better place. Husbands would truly respect their wives. Men could think of women more like themselves, wanting to do what’s best for the individual rather than their selfish desires. I don’t know how to fix the problem in the overall society, but on an individual level, there is something Catholics can do to improve their relationships.

The only way to stop sex from clouding the mind is to avoid it. This is especially important for single people, but even married people can benefit from this. The most important thing is to limit exposure to the sinful culture. Avoid movies and TV shows with nudity or sex scenes. Reduce how much time you spend with entertainment and the media. The time you do spend, stick to films rated PG or lower, animated films, and documentaries. On TV, nature shows, science shows, and documentaries are usually good. Instead of popular music, listen to classical or Christian music. Another huge thing is not associating with people caught up in the sinful culture. They might be very nice as friends, but bad influences have to go. Make friends with fellow Catholics, who know the truth and strive to live by it.

The second most important thing for single people is celibacy. Our society has embraced the horrible sins of fornication, pornography, and masturbation (CCC 2352-2354). Whether you have developed a habit of these sins or not, the only way to see the opposite sex in a Godly way is to remove sex from the equation. You do this by dying to self (Mt 16:25, Mk 8:35), including practicing complete abstinence (or continence, 2349).

Many people don’t think abstinence is even possible. While it may be difficult at first, it is definitely possible. Sex is not a need. Studies suggest it takes about 90 days for the brain to adjust to abstinence. You’ll always have to deal with temptations, but they will be really easy to resist. Then when you get into a romantic relationship while remaining chaste, you will be able to see the whole person, allowing you to fall in love with the whole person, not just how he or she looks. You might even find you’re not called to marriage at all. Lust could have clouded your mind from a call to the priesthood or consecrated life.

Married people can also benefit from abstinence. If you went from the sins of fornication, pornography, or masturbation straight into marriage, you could still have a cloud over your eyes, making it hard to love everything about your spouse. You can remove that cloud through abstinence just like single people. You will need to make an agreement with your spouse, but if he or she accepts, a good time to start this is Lent. It’s only 47 days counting Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, but I recommend continuing for 90 days. In that time you will be forced to learn how to be intimate with your spouse without the marital act. When you finish, you will appreciate everything about your spouse, not just his or her body. Your marriage will be strengthened, and you might even find you don’t get in as many fights. You will just enjoy each other’s company more.

Everything we do is good or evil, so we are either a slave to sin (selfish) or a slave to God (selfless). We have to acknowledge that our physical body is not our own. It was lent to us by God to do good work; it will eventually be taken away at our death. Our sexuality is not our own but an instrument for God’s good work. Like all blessings, sexuality should be used as an offering to God, whether it be in the sacrifice of continence (abstinence) for single people or the complete giving of self in conjugal life for married people (CCC 2349).

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared