The word “vocation” contains a root etymology from the Latin verb “vocare” meaning “to call.” A vocation is defined as a “calling.” It can apply to a job or a way of life that a person feels strongly drawn to or “called” by the work itself and those in need of it. Doctors, nurses and social workers frequently refer to their professions as “vocations.” In religious circles, however, vocation is most often used to describe a state in life to which God “calls” someone.
Priests, religious sisters and brothers are said to have a “vocation.”
That is the most common use and understanding of the term in the Catholic Church. Spouses in a sacramental marriage also believe that they have a “vocation.”
A “religious vocation” is a call from God, although not necessarily in a literal sense. Young women and men of faith “hear” this call through the circumstances and experiences of their lives in the Church and through their prayer. Priests, deacons and religious women and men give public witness to the significance of faith and the impact it has on their lives – so much so, that association with them or observation of their ministry and apostolic work attracts people to follow their example. God has made a difference in their lives which “calls” them to hand their lives over to his service and to the service of his people. Those who see this witness feel “called” to do the same things and live the same way. And so they pray for God’s wisdom and guidance in giving a direction to their lives.
November 6 begins “National Vocation Awareness Week” in the Catholic Church. While being conscious of married life and even intentional single life as “vocations,” the Church this week lifts up and celebrates the dedication and commitment of men to the priesthood and diaconate, and women and men to consecrated religious life as vocations – opportunities and avenues for a life of faith-filled service to and within the Church.
There are many other ways in which service can be given in the Church by committed lay people, but priesthood and religious life are vocations that invite those “called” to give their entire lives in very defined ways to Jesus Christ and to his Church.
Are priesthood and religious life “better” vocations than other ways of life in the Church? Of course not. God calls everyone according to his plan. But without the priest, there is no Eucharist; without the Eucharist, there is no Church. Without deacons and religious women and men, some essential ministries within the Church will not happen.
“National Vocation Awareness Week” focuses our attention on these “callings” not simply as options, but as necessities for the Church to fulfill its mission, for the Church to serve the community of faith.
The Church needs good, faithful, dedicated priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers. As your Bishop, I ask you to ask someone: Why not you? Why not now?