Vocations: More than Just Religious Life

17 May 2009. 6th Sunday of Easter
John 15, 9-17. This homily last Friday, applies also for this Sunday. The Gospel is the same.

15 May 2009. Friday of the 5th Week of Easter
Acts 15, 22-31; Psalm 57, 8-12; John 15, 12-17

Jesus said in the Gospel today, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” The passage reminds me of what we call in religious terms, vocations. We rarely use this term today because we always equate it with the life in the religious ministry --- namely for priests, nuns, brothers. Rightly so, but not completely. Vocation literally means a call or an invitation from God, and it includes all others than just the religious ministry. It includes lay life, such as marriage and single-blessedness. But to me, these are “life forms” or categories of a way of life. A vocation is wider in scope.

Walter Brueggemann describes a vocation as “finding a purpose for being in the world that is related to the purpose of God.” Thus it emphasizes that meaning and purpose is not just in relation to oneself, but also in relation to an Other. When growing up, we always ask the question, “Who am I apart from everyone else?” But experience tells us that we never get a straight answer. We always find ourselves in relation to: I am a son (in relation to our parents); I am a friend (in relation to other friends; we cannot be a friend unless there is someone who considers us the same way); I am an engineer (compared to doctors, agriculturists, and other professions); I am a musician (compared to other skills and abilities of others). But a vocation asks an expanded version, “Whose am I?” And from there, we determine what kind of life do we lead. If we belong to a marriage partner, then our lives is determined by her or him. If we belong to our children, then our life styles will be determined by them. If we belong to God, then our schedules would revolve around Him. We freely and willingly decide to let another determine our lives, because we love them. This is true love. That is why marriage is done without coercion. If one is discovered to have been harassed, then the marriage becomes null and void. The minister asks each of the couple: “N, did you come here of your own free will, to bind yourself forever in the love and service of your wife/husband?” A vocation then is a relationship; it is first of all a response to another who “called” us first. There must be a stimulus first before we respond to it.

In any relationship, we must know our total self whom we are giving to the person who matters to us. Thus, James Fowler says that a vocation is a “response a person makes with one’s total self to the address of God and to the calling of a partnership.” Thus it will now involve everything that we do, an orchestration, of work, leisure, our private and public life, our resources --- everything about us --- and disposes all of these to God’s purpose of love. St. Ignatius of Loyola allows those who make retreats to pray, “Take and receive ... all that I have, You have given to me, now I return it according to your will.”

Jesus tells us to “love one another as I have loved you.” Thus, loving would require all of ourselves. All of ourselves is beyond our “life forms” as mentioned above. It will include our limitations, our culture, our ethnic origin, our genders, and our different perspectives. Love means giving all of us to another person, or to a community. Vocation then is not just a career; a sure path to prosper. It challenges us to picture our own path at the service of the community. That is why, people who choose a path thinking of a career, sometimes fall short of their own happiness. They may get a higher pay; indulge with the luxuries of the world, but they remain unfulfilled. I know of several who has made this kind of decision which now has provided financial stability. But they remain unfulfilled, and so in their spare time they do ministry work providing various services such as free legal consultation, choir services, voluntary social work, etc. Fulfillment is discovered in relation to others. When we respond to the call of God to love our neighbors as ourselves, we discover meaning and purpose.

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