By Father Kevin A. Cook
Diocesan Director of Vocations and Seminarians
Last Sunday, November 1, we celebrated the solemnity of All Saints Day. On this great solemnity we remembered not only all our brothers and sisters in the faith who have been canonized by the Church, but all those who know the glory of God in Heaven. There are so many incredible things for us to learn from how they lived their lives, not only in the extraordinary graced moments in their lives, but also in their daily ordinary events. We can learn from the virtues they lived, and their response to the graces God poured upon them. The saints were ordinary men and women, boys and girls.
One thing is clear, that though they may have struggled at times, even at times had fallen into sin, they died in the state of grace doing the Will of God. It is the Will of God that all of us, beginning from our Baptism, live out our one vocation: the call to be saints. This is our primary vocation that we have all received from God. He calls us to be holy since we are sons and daughters of God. To live this out we need the necessary graces from God, and God promises us He will give the graces that will be sufficient for us.
In the midst of this one calling to be saints, God calls us to particular vocations so we can live the call to holiness in the greatest way. By responding to our vocations we will find the greatest path to happiness and holiness in this life and forever in Heaven. These vocations are particular states in life: priesthood, diaconate, religious and consecrated life, Marriage, and the generous single state in Christ. Each one is unique and absolutely essential, yet none stands alone. Each impacts, strengthens, and learns from the other.
The Lord calls us in particular ways so as to build up the Kingdom of God and that through each vocation others may discover and live their vocation. When certain vocations are not being responded to, gradually all the other vocations suffer. As a diocese we need to give greater attention in our prayer, foster vocations, and grow in our understanding of how crucial each calling from God is.
Most of the faithful are called to sanctity through Marriage. This calling is essential for the life of the Church. As a Sacrament, a baptized man and baptized woman are united as one, married in the Lord, and they receive particular graces to lead each other and their children to Christ, and through the Sacrament Christ brings them deeper into a union with one another.
St. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians that the model for married couples is Christ and His bride the Church. Through the Sacrament they enter into Christ’s fidelity and are called to manifest that fidelity to one another and to their children, even in the face of the cross. Through chaste love, they discover the gift that the other is and are to help lead each other closer to God, bearing crosses of the other, and offering every aspect of their life together to Christ, especially through the Eucharist. Today we see more not responding to the Lord and are choosing to not live the commitment in Christ and to another through Marriage, but limit their love on their own terms.
The call to Marriage is the vocation we are all most attracted to on a natural level. But the Lord also calls some to make a radical sacrifice of that intimate human relationship in Marriage so as to give their whole life to Him and His Church. It is a supernatural call of love for the whole Church as a priest, a religious in consecrated life, or in a generous single state for Christ.
But those called to these vocations must have the same type of heart as a person called to Marriage. If one is not attracted to being married or wanting to raise children, then one will most likely not be happy as a religious or priest because it requires that same disposition of a heart willing to give all for another. Because these vocations are more radical, we do need to bring them more to our attention and encourage those whom we think the Lord may be calling to listen to a possible call, and for those who are responding to encourage and support them.
Some men are called by the Lord to give their lives by becoming priests and deacons. Through Holy Orders priests continue the mission of Christ and it enables them to exercise a Sacred power in the name of Christ for the service of the people of God. Through Holy Orders the ordained become conformed to Christ in a unique way so as to serve all the faithful that they may live out fully their call to discipleship. The bishop is the one who receives through Holy Orders the fullness of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, but the priest and deacon also receive Holy Orders, sharing in the ministerial priesthood of Christ but in different degrees. The deacon is called to be conformed to Christ the Servant and not only teach and help administer the Sacraments, but to be especially mindful of the poor. The priest can in a very particular way offer the Sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation for the faithful so they may grow in the grace of Christ. For the faithful who are facing serious illness and danger of death, the priest brings them through the Anointing of the Sick the mercy and power of Christ. All the faithful share in Jesus’ royal priesthood through Baptism, and it is the role of the ministerial priesthood to help activate the royal priesthood of the faithful by giving daily the Sacraments, of teaching faithfully, humbly, lovingly, and courageously the truths of the fullness of the faith, of praying faithfully each day for all the faithful especially through the Liturgy of the Hours, and sanctifying the other duties entrusted to them as a shepherds of the faithful.
The vocation that is considered the highest calling is that of men and women who are called to religious and consecrated life. Making promises of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, they become witnesses to the rest of the faithful of the love we are called to in Heaven. They are called to be separate from the world (whereas the clergy, married, and single state are called to be in the world but not of the world), living a particular charism for the sake of the Church and the world. Most religious live in community and through community life they help each other grow more Christ-like, knowing at times living in community has its many challenges.
Lastly there are some called to the vocation to a generous single life in Christ. This may be one of the harder vocations to discern because it often goes misunderstood. This vocation does not mean one is called to be a bachelor or bachelorette, but that Christ is calling a person to remain single, dedicating their whole life to Him and His Church in the midst of the world. It is not a calling of a person who just doesn’t want to get married, but they sense the Lord is calling them to embrace the celibate life, a life of total generosity and giving all at the service of the Church, but also knows through prayer they are not called to become a religious or priest.
Some discern the calling in prayer and belong to a certain community or Personal Prelature, but “some are placed in this state because of particular circumstances not always of their choosing” (CCC 1658). Those in this state must work with the Church as to how best live this state in their lives and how to live it with great generosity of heart. A great example of this vocation was Jan Tyranowski, a single layman whose example of faith and friendship had a profound impact on the life of Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope St. John Paul II). In the last hundred years of the Church this vocation has been brought more to light and still is one in need of greater understanding.
Each vocation deserves prayer and respect. The uniqueness of each must be recognized, and how all help the other live their vocation. Each vocation is able to reach souls in ways the other vocations cannot. Furthermore, as we see someone live out his or her vocation joyfully, it helps us understand how to live out our vocation better. For example a priest is called to be a Spiritual father, and many times he learns to be a Spiritual father from the faithful fathers in his parish who live a Spirit of sacrifice and self-giving. Married couples learn not only from other married couples, but also they can be inspired by those who live faithfully and heroically their promises to the Lord in religious life or the priesthood.
Another example is a priest who learns how to live a Spirit of detachment when he tries to live materially in imitation of a father of a large poor family (which can be a challenge when there are many temptations to a comfortable life-style). As a priest, I know I have learned so much about what a priest’s heart should be not only from brother priests and good theology books, but from so many examples from family members and parishioners I have been blessed to serve over the years.
We are facing many challenges today in the Church and society, and perhaps one of the greatest challenges is helping each other listen to the Lord’s call, supporting it, and living it. The Gospels bring many examples of vocations to light. Some we see the Lord calls and they respond with immediacy (like the Apostles) and others the Lord calls but they don’t respond with generosity of heart (the rich young man who goes away sad). Jesus tells us the harvest is great and the laborers are few, so pray the Master of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest. So as we remember our calling, we pray to the Lord to send us many more laborers from within our parishes and diocese. Like the Apostle Phillip did with the future Apostle Nathanael, may we lead others to Christ so they may hear His calling to come follow Him so as to build up the Kingdom of God.