What Is a Vocation?

9 Apr

vocationVocation comes from the Latin verb vocare, which means “to call.” A vocation is a calling from God and to God. A vocation naturally includes what we do “for a living,” but it goes much deeper than that. God has a personal plan for each one of us. This “plan” is our personal vocation, as God invites each one of us to a special relationship with Him through Christ.

Let’s take a closer look at how this plays out.

All the faithful, by virtue of our Baptism, have a vocation in the Church. All of us are called to a deep, personal, and communal relationship with the Lord and His family, the Church; all of us are called to holiness—to become saints; all of us have a role to play in bringing the Gospel to the world, one precious soul at a time.

The faithful who have not received Holy Orders and who do not belong to a religious state approved by the Church are known as laity. The vast majority of Catholics are lay men and women. Laity may either be married or single, and they are called to serve as leaven in the midst of the world—usually within our families and local community, but sometimes in the missions.

Some men who belong to religious communities have received the Sacrament of Holy Orders. For that reason, we may encounter, for example, Franciscan priests or Dominican priests. Other men take religious vows yet are not called to the priesthood. They are typically called brothers, though depending on the nature of their consecration they may also be considered “monks,” “hermits,” “friars,” etc., as well.

Most priests do not belong to religious communities. They are known as secular, or diocesan priests. They serve as co-workers with their bishop, often serving as pastors of local communities known as parishes where they may be assisted in their ministry by men who have been ordained as deacons.

Women who have consecrated themselves to Christ through the profession of the religious vows (or “evangelical counsels”) of poverty, chastity, and obedience are usually known as sisters, or nuns. Some lead a more cloistered, contemplative way of life, while others are actively engaged in the apostolate.

There are many ways of consecrating one’s life to the Lord. How it plays out in one’s own life is a matter of careful discernment, requiring prayer and sound spiritual mentorship.

After all, a vocation is not about doing “what feels right,” but rather is a personal response to the living God, who calls us by name, and who has special plans for each of us!

Below is a helpful sampling of Church documents on vocations: 

I Will Give You Shepherds (Pastores Dabo Vobis): Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, March 25, 1992

The Priest and the Third Christian Millennium: Congregation for the Clergy, March 19, 1999

Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests: Congregation for the Clergy, January 31, 1994

National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States: USCCB, December 26, 2004

Consecrated Life (Vita Consecrata): Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, March 25, 1996

Instruction on the Contemplative Life and on the Enclosure of Nuns (Verbi Sponsa): Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life

Starting Afresh from Christ: A Renewed Commitment to Consecrated Life in the Third Millennium: Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life 2002

The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People (Christifideles Laici): Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, December 30, 1998

Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful and the Sacred Ministry of Priests: August 13, 1997

Readers are also invited to check out An Undivided Heart, the official blog of the Institute on Religious Life, the U.S. Bishops’ For Your Vocation site, and our own archdiocesan vocations site.

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