Though one doesn’t hear such a question asked as outright as the title, often good Catholic kids will have grown up knowing that we all have a vocation — a calling from God — and that we need to discern that calling. We may have heard parents or other adults explaining to us at an early age that God calls some people to the priesthood and/or religious life, some to be married, and some to be single.
One thing that can often get lost in our contemporary society and our quest for personal fulfillment is the concept of sacrifice. Really, to discern one’s vocation is to ask, “In what why am I being called to radical sacrifice?”
Am I called to be single? Everyone, at some point in his or her life is called to be single, some as a temporary state, and some as a permanent one. After all, everyone begins life single. As such, I feel it is vastly important to give encouragement and support to those who are single and to help them appreciate the full depth of this calling, whether temporary or permanent. The Single, in a special way, must learn to live in the present moment. Rather than approach life like they are in some sort of limbo, simply waiting until they meet Mr. or Ms. Right, or until they get a clear direction about what they are to do in their life, they can live life fully embracing the present moment, meeting God there.
The Single also must learn in a unique way to trust in God. Not having that “special someone” who will have their back through thick and thin, and the security of another person who has vowed to put their needs first, the Single must rely to put their greatest trust in God.
In a sense, we are all single before God. Even if we are married, we will experience lonliness. We don’t see eye-to-eye with our spouses sometimes. We experience life inside our own heads and with our own perceptions, and that may be very different than life as our spouses perceive it, even as we experience much of life next to each other. Whatever our vocation, we must learn radical trust and dependence on God. How we think about the single life will influence and inform how we live the other vocations as well.
Am I called to be married? To take the vows of marriage is to vow to put the needs of your spouse above your own, which, in our fallen state, doesn’t always come naturally. We want what we want and when we want it! It can be hard to set aside our own desires for the needs of others. In marriage though, we must strive to meet the physical and emotional needs of our spouse. Daily life usually offers ample opportunities to serve one’s spouse, so we must strive to take advantage of them.
Of course, with the vocation of marriage also often comes the radical sacrifice of parenthood. Although children bring us so much joy as we parents discover each of their unique personalities and talents, we also sacrifice a lot of our own plans to give them their best shot at life. For other married coupes, they will be called to the radical sacrifice of infertility — of their great longing for a child to go unfulfilled, with all the suffering that that entails.
Am I called to be a Religious? Religious men and women typically take the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Religious life emerged when Christians ceased being persecuted and so the vows were gradually developed in order to take the place of physical martyrdom. The vows, in fact, were designed to be a living martyrdom. I’ll say that again: Living. Martyrdom. They say ‘no’ to all our strongest desires — for sex, possessions, and to do our own will in order to remind themselves and us that God alone suffices. I think sometimes people can look up to religious so much that they think that religious are people who are so holy and good that all these things come easy to them. The fact is, that although God gives people the grace to live their vocations, the vows are nevertheless very difficult — as difficult as martyrdom — and they are lived by ordinary people who must rely on God’s grace, for without it, the vows would be impossible.
Am I called to the Priesthood? Men who are called to the priesthood are consecrated in a special way for service. In the example of Christ, they serve us. First and foremost, they give us the Sacraments, and make the life of the divine available to us. They too, give up rich possessions, a spouse, children, and their own will in order to serve the people of God. They put themselves at our disposal in a radical and unique way to nourish us spiritually. Like a parent getting supper ready day in and day out, priests provide the heavenly meal of the mass for us every day, when it is easy and when they are tired, and often when they are sick. Unlike normal children, it seems the spiritual children of priests never get old enough to make the meal! Priests are often still giving this heavenly meal to us even after retirement. They serve us through the grace we receive in the other Sacraments and in their council, and in the many practical ways they serve their parish.
Each of us, in different ways, are called to radical sacrifice. Each of us must discern our vocation and thereafter, each day we must discern anew how God is calling us to radical sacrifice.
This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. – Gaudium et Spes
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10:39)