PART 1 – Misconceptions of the word ‘vocation‘
Edited by Fr. Joaquim Lobo and published in Sangati, Jan 2018 (Salesian Magazine, Goa)
In the present era, our lack of understanding of the word ‘vocation’ has resulted in various negative consequences, one being that zeal and fervent love for service in God’s Kingdom has reduced among the Laity (referring to non consecrated Catholics). People mistakenly tend to associate the word ‘vocation’ with only the religious life and consecrated life, that of priests and nuns. The Catholic Church however, clearly teaches us that the vocations are the life as layman in the world, either married or single, the ordained life and the consecrated life.
All Catholics in each of these categories are called to follow Jesus closely and live out their vocation by serving God in their respective state with evangelistic zeal, desiring to be a labourer in the vineyard and bearing a Spirit-filled witness to the gospel. This is a universal call. God has personally chosen each of us for a divine purpose. Jesus says,
You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.John 15:16
When we yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit and sincerely place our lives in God’s hands, we can experience the joy of being an instrument which God uses for His glory. God does not call the qualified, but He qualifies those who are called!
The Universal Call to Mission
Missionary activity has one purpose – to serve man by revealing to him the love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ.
– Pope John Paul II (Mission of the Redeemer)
Both the married life and the single life provide opportunities to give glory to God. This is what God truly desires for one and all! In the different states of life and in varied circumstances, each and every Catholic is chosen for partaking in this work of reaching out God’s love to others. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, we are led into effective evangelisation. This cannot be replaced by good and charitable works, any type of service to the poor or working towards the welfare of society, though all these are very important. The proclamation of the gospel message is actually what allows one to truly encounter Jesus and leads to an authentic relationship with God. What comes to the foreground here is the eternal aspect of one’s salvation, sharing of our faith in Jesus and the wonderful results of His Life, Death and Resurrection. Along with the proclamation, all the Laity are called to bear witness to the gospel by living out a holy and inspiring life of Christian virtue. This balance is very important.
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.– Matt 5:16
No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty; to proclaim Christ to all people.
-– Pope John Paul II (Intro, Mission of the Redeemer)
As we respond in obedience to the Lord, He gives us the necessary graces to live out this missionary mandate. Through our co-operation in sincere prayer and action, we can receive the strength and wisdom that is required for the task that God is asking of us.
The Family and the Church
The family is the building block of human society. As goes the family, so goes the community and the nation. The world at large is thus affected. The family is referred to being a ‘domestic church’. The spiritual growth of the worldwide Catholic Church is highly dependent on the role played by the laity in families.
Give me holy Catholic families and I will give you a holy Catholic Church.
-Pope John Paul II
The Christian family is called to partake of the prayer and sacrifice of Christ and it has an evangelizing and missionary task. (No. 2205, Catechism of the Catholic Church)
It is amongst the children of the present day Catholic families that most of the future priests and nuns of the Catholic Church will arise from. Their upbringing in childhood will affect their religious calling, either positively or negatively. Even for those children who later in life choose to get married, their faith formation as children will play a strong role in the sanctity and holiness of the married life and their role as parents. Pope Francis strongly exhorts families to be examples of holiness and prayer. In this way, the family has a beautiful place in God’s plan for humankind and for the evangelisation of the human race.
The specialised role of the Laity in the Church
Since they are members of the Church by virtue of their Baptism, all Christians share responsibility for missionary activity.
– Pope John Paul II (No. 77, Mission of the Redeemer)
It is unrealistic and incorrect to assume that the religious are the only ones called to evangelisation. While they do have a specialised role in the Church which the Laity cannot fulfil, the Laity also have a specialised role which cannot be fulfilled by the religious. Simply put – these roles are irreplaceable!
The contribution of the Laity in the growth of the Church is indispensible. In their secular circumstances of family, social setting and work life, they reach out God’s saving message to souls who otherwise may never come to know the life changing gospel of Jesus.
For example, in connection with the spiritual growth among children, we need to understand that faith formation begins at home. Children first need to experience God’s love and the importance of prayer in the daily lifestyle of the family. When this is laid as a foundation, then the Catechism classes and further faith formation outside the home can bear fruit and lead them to encounter the Lord tangibly. Hence, the parents play a role in the family which no outsider, teacher or catechist can replace!
Similarly, a lay person, whether single or married, is called to bear witness to the Lord in situations where the religious or consecrated may not be called to be a part of. These situations include the secular workplace of job or business, certain get-togethers of family and friends, events in the neighbourhood and various aspects of being a part of society. Even in connection with spiritual activities like a bible study, prayer meeting, Small Christian Communities, counselling and conducting of retreats and seminars, the Laity are called to offer their talents and contribute to the building up of the Kingdom of God.
So, on a documented basis, what does the Catholic Church say about all of this?