By Frank Wessling
Vocation is a word seldom heard outside our church circles. Too bad.
The word comes from the Latin vocatio, meaning a calling. When we use it we place ourselves in a universe where we can do great things because there is a voice, a source, larger than ourselves calling within us to rise up into the fullness of life meant for us.
There was a time when medical doctors were looked upon with enough reverence for their knowledge, skill and dedication that we thought of them as following a vocation. We see a vocation to scholarship in people dedicated to a life of study in a particular field. Doctors and scholars put their lives at the service of something noble in itself and greater than themselves. As a result, they gain unusual value in service to the community.
Priests are the preeminent example of vocation in the church for the same reason. These are lives given for service to Christ in his people. It’s no wonder that when we talk about vocation, priesthood gets most of the attention.
But we shouldn’t stop there. In fact, looking at priesthood first is to get things backward. Vocation for us begins in baptism. Each of us is called. Each of us begins to feel and hear a call to great things from the beginning of our life as Christians.
Each of us hears the Gospel, the Good News of God-with-us. And when we give careful attention, that Good News is molding each of us into lovers with an urge to embrace the world as Jesus did.
We have trouble seeing our little individual selves, our uniqueness, as participating in God’s creative work. That’s why the original importance of baptism as the beginning and source of Christian vocation needs to be stressed. It is baptism where each of us as individual persons is touched by the Spirit and named “Beloved” — a particular gift in creation.
Each of us needs to hear and heed that divine voice saying, “In you I am well pleased” — and build our lives with confidence that the good and beautiful only we can do is of world-class importance. Saints don’t reach that status by doing one great thing. They grow into greatness by doing small things again and again and again heeding the persistent call to love as Jesus loves.
Children need the Christian community to affirm them and confirm their every generous deed as a sign of growing into Christ and entering the road to human maturity. This is crucial in amplifying the call planted in baptism. It points out for children the way to being a real lover rather than a self-satisfying imitation. It raises the Gospel way of life onto the fresh scale of values being developed in childhood.
It increases the courage and creative energy needed to live out a human life as vocation rather than a spiritually barren slide into death.
We say that marriage is a vocation, and that’s true when the baptismal vocation has taken root in two people. We say that life as a single person can be a vocation, and again it can be true when the baptismal vocation is vibrant. But without a sense of the fundamental blessing and call in baptism, we will probably not rise very far above the fashions and habits of the day.
We will be carried along in the stream of culture where we find ourselves.
That shouldn’t happen. When grasped by vocation we discover ourselves first as blessed children of promise, and then we can become the yeast of divine love which transforms that stream.
We ordinary, everyday people will be saints because we heard and nurtured the call that came in baptism.