By Father Ross Epping
For most of us, “vocation” tends to evoke images of priests and monks and religious sisters. When we speak of vocations, we tend to speak of one man’s call to ordination or one woman’s call to serve in a religious community.
Over the summer, I was having a conversation with one of my former teens, now a sophomore in college. I shared with him that I had been named Director of Vocations and the first words out of his mouth were, “Please don’t try to convince me I should be a priest.” We laughed about it. But that statement prompted me to think about just how much we have lost in terms of what vocation really means.
The word means a call or a summons, and so answering this one specific call. It is not a matter of having a job, or even doing a job. In our Catholic Christian context, it means participating in the work of God and immersing ourselves in what it is that we were born to do. We are not all born to be priests. We are not all born to be consecrated, religious sisters. That is the beauty of God’s kingdom. We are not all supposed to be the same and do the same and live the same. You have a gift that I do not. Your neighbor has a gift that you do not. This is the grace of being members of Christ’s body, the church.
All of us, by virtue of our baptism, have been welcomed into God’s priestly people. While some of us have been set apart to lead worship and to preach and administer God’s sacraments, most of us have not. That fact does not diminish in any way our personal roles in the church and in the world. We are set apart for ministry, confirmed and strengthened in worship, and created in service to our sisters and brothers. While some of us may be called to ordination or consecration, all of us are called and summoned through our common baptism.
We discover our vocation through this common ministry of being — being who we already are, doing what we are already doing, with one stark difference: we understand ourselves to be God’s persons in and for the world.
We may encounter the Word of God and the sacraments within the walls of our churches, but they never end there. They are borne into the world by all who are baptized and who exercise them and put them into action in more ways and places than the ordained or consecrated ever could alone.
This pandemic we find ourselves in is ripe for opportunities of discovery. Answering God’s call requires no specific virtues from us, for we have already been marked as Christ’s own forever. All it takes now is a good imagination, a whole lot of heartfelt prayer, and asking ourselves these two questions: “Where is God calling me? And how might I respond?”
(Father Ross Epping is director of vocations for the Diocese of Davenport and pastor of St Mary Parish in Grinnell.)