Vocations are a special point of emphasis after Christmas with both the feast of the Baptism of the Lord Jan. 9 and the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2. When Mary and Joseph presented their infant son Jesus in the Temple, he was “consecrated to the Lord” (Luke 2:23). This act of consecration was an official acknowledgement that God has a special purpose for every person, a vocation or a calling, and the parents promised to raise their newborn on God’s behalf and help the child build a solid spiritual foundation so that God’s plan for their child would be realized.
The initial invitation that Jesus made to Peter and Andrew, Jesus makes to every person, “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19).
Our first vocation is to follow Jesus, to be his disciple, to accept him as the Lord and master of our life, to be in a close and personal relationship with him, and to accept baptism and become a member of the Body of Christ.
As a disciple, a person is called to live a good and holy life: to listen attentively to Jesus and his Gospel teachings and implement them in every way possible; to advance in the virtues of faith, hope, and love; to pray each and every day; to actively participate in the life of the church; to receive the sacraments regularly; to steer clear of sin and live as blamelessly as possible; and to have love for one another, the decisive way to demonstrate discipleship (John 13:35).
As states of life
There are different vocational states of life, ways to follow God’s call: clergy or ordained, priests and deacons; the consecrated life, religious sisters and religious brothers; and the lay state, married and single.
God also has entrusted every person with a unique set of talents and abilities, which are to be put to good use so God might enjoy an excellent return on the original investment (Matthew 25:14-30; see also Romans 12:5-8 and 1 Corinthians
The Scriptures are full of examples: Cain was a tiller of soil, a farmer, while Abel was a keeper of flocks, a shepherd; Joseph was a carpenter; Peter and Andrew were fishermen; Matthew was a tax collector; Paul was a tentmaker; and Lydia was a dealer in purple goods.
The call to follow God comes in all sorts of ways. God spoke to Abraham directly and then in a vision. Moses was called through a burning bush, Samuel by a voice in a dream, Mary by the angel Gabriel, Nathanael by his friend Philip, Paul by a voice from the sky, and Andrew and Peter by Jesus himself. There is no way of knowing exactly how or when the call will come. The secret is to be well-prepared and ready.
After Mary was presented in the Temple, she was well-schooled in the faith by her parents Sts. Anne and Joachim. Anne is frequently depicted reading from Scripture to her young daughter. Mary learned the Bible, prayed at home with her family, went to the Temple consistently, and associated with other devout Jewish families. As a young girl, she advanced in age and faith, wisdom and grace, so that when God’s call came through the angel, she was ready to say, “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Every Christian would be well-advised to prepare in a similar manner.
It is normal to hesitate when God calls. Moses claimed that he was not an eloquent speaker, Isaiah resisted because he had unclean lips, Jeremiah hesitated because he was too young, and Peter objected because he was a sinner. Even if there were some truth to their excuses, God did not accept them. We all have our excuses. God is unwilling to take “No” for an answer. When God calls, the ideal reply is, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
How to know God’s call
St. Augustine said, “My heart is restless until it rests in thee.” Pay attention to restlessness. An agitated feeling can be an indicator that God is calling a person to something new or different. Peace comes when a person is doing what God wants.
Pray. God speaks in prayer, and God clarifies the call in prayer. Discuss the perceived call with a faith-filled friend or a spiritual director.
Watch for signs God may provide to confirm or verify the call. And test the call against a scriptural standard like the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). If a perceived call helps a person be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle and self-controlled, it is movement in the right direction. But if the perceived call diminishes these fruits, it probably is contrary to God’s will.
Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka.