“How do I know if I have a vocation?” This is a question very often asked by men and women as they begin discerning a call to the priesthood or religious life.
The word “if” does not belong in the question. The question should be, “What is my vocation?” When we hear the word “vocation,” we so often think of a special calling to the priesthood or religious life, but everyone has a vocation in life. The mission in our life is to know and live our vocation.
The word vocation comes from the Latin vocare or vocatio, which means to summon or call. We are called to fulfill some purpose in this world. The call is personal and the call is of divine origin. God has a plan for each of us and is calling us to a particular state in life or to a particular mission.
We all have a purpose and a role in God’s plan and, in most cases, we have several callings. We may be called to married life and parenthood. We may be called to live as a single person. We may be called to work in a particular field, such as teaching, medicine, civil service, engineering law or the trades. We may be called to serve the needs of the poor, to volunteer our time and talents to serve others; or we may be called to devote our life exclusively to ministry, to spreading the Gospel and to prayer.
A call comes from outside of ourselves and sometimes a calling is not something we initially desired, but following our personal call from God will no doubt give us a sense of peace and fulfillment.
The first step in finding our vocation is recognizing that we do indeed have a vocation. Once we realize we are called, we then can focus on the real question: “What is my vocation or calling in life?”
We often run the risk of equating a vocation with a job or career. We are trained to prepare ourselves to work in a particular field and advance in knowledge and skill in that particular field. A vocation is more than a career. A vocation is any state in life that makes God present in the world and a force that works to advance the salvation of the world.
The next step is to acknowledge that we are called by God, that God has created us all to fulfill a mission in this world. Once we have acknowledged that we have a divine calling, the next logical step is to go to the source of the call and seek our pathway in life.
Personal prayer, a personal encounter with our Lord, is essential to coming to know our vocation. In the silence of prayer, in conversation with God, our hearts are stirred, and we begin to discover and desire God’s call. The answer to the vocation question will be found in prayer. We may also find signs of our vocation from our own desires and from external signs. God often speaks to us through other people and through our experiences in life, and we must be attentive to the ways God speaks to us.
Finally, once we have discovered our calling, we must accept it and seek to fulfill it. Perhaps this is the most challenging part. Very often, following a calling requires us to reach beyond that which is familiar and comfortable to us and this requires courage and, most important, faith. We may still have questions and even doubts about the path we follow, but ultimately, we must recognize the call is from God and we must make that leap of faith to follow God’s will, God’s call.
Father Antthony J. Smith is director of the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office of Vocations.