By Celine Klosterman
Everyone has three vocational calls — to faith, relationships and work, Mike Carotta said during “Sustaining the Spirit” retreats last week.
He spoke at St. Ann Church in Long Grove to chancery staff on Jan. 16 and at St. Patrick Church in Iowa City on Jan. 17 to lay ministers, educators, parishioners and clergy. During the retreats, he guided participants through discussion and reflection to help them explore their callings, commitments and challenges.
The calling of work is what most people think the term “vocation” refers to, but a person’s job may or may not be a vocation, Carotta said. People may accept certain paid work primarily to support their main vocation of caring for a family.
“It’s all about your life, but not about a life that is all yours.”
The three types of callings can compete with each other, he said. Sometimes, people obsess over one and neglect the others. “Instead of trying to find your life’s work, do the work of your life.”
Author Parker Palmer has suggested that vocations go through seasons. If you’re in an unsatisfying season, “take consolation in knowing the weather’s going to change,” Carotta said.
The speaker later shared numerous traits of people who sustain lives of commitment — characteristics explored in the book “Common Fire: Leading Lives of Commitment in a Complex World.” These qualities include trust, engagement with others, an ability to live with complexity, learning from pain and a sense of “holy urgency.”
Speaking on living with complexity, Carotta shared the story of a man who left a job as a diocesan director of lay ministry after growing frustrated with what he considered bureaucracy and hypocrisy. “He couldn’t hold the contradictions” of his ministry, the speaker said.
Retreat participants read the story of a bored, burnt-out surgeon who found renewed passion for his work after writing down what surprised, touched and inspired him each day. Paying attention as the surgeon did can also help people in other professions who’ve become desensitized, Carotta said.
Also, keep company with someone who reminds you of your work’s value, despite the job’s shortcomings.
He explored four attitudes toward work: it’s for building relationships, completing tasks, “just a job,” or something that should mean everything to an employee. “You’re already coming to work with one of these attitudes,” he said. “Which is the Holy Spirit asking you to cultivate?”
In closing, Carotta encouraged retreat participants not to expect perfection of themselves or others. Fidelity to a commitment is more important than flawlessness, he said. “When we do our awful best… we’ll leave a legacy.”
“The challenges we face can sometimes frustrate us in our vocations,” Tammy Norcross, pastoral minister and director of faith formation at Sacred Heart Parish in Newton, said after the retreat. “It was valuable to look at some practices that can help us sustain our vocations.”
“Sustaining the Spirit” also helped participants rethink what it means to have a calling, she said. “Does it mean being fulfilled? Productive? It’s even more than that.” Carotta suggested it’s “what you were born to do.”
The retreat offered time for Father Joseph Phung and three staffers from St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant to gather with others in the diocese, refresh themselves spiritually and reflect on their callings, the pastor said. Carotta helped participants consider how to fulfill their own needs as well as those of people they serve. “He gave us a lot of good information and reminders. We truly enjoyed it.”