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The great mystery of a vocation

The first question in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is: “Which plan has God for man?” The first part of the answer is: “God infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.” The wonderful vocation of every person is expressed here in a few words. God is overflowing love. The Father loves the Son and the Son the Father and the bond of Love which unites them is the Holy Spirit. God has created man out of pure goodness and in perfect freedom, so that he may participate in this blessed life. To all men which He calls into life He wants to give His unending love.

Much in our lives is the same for every person. We can think of the body with its members and organs and of the existence of man with soul and mind. Everybody has will and mind, he has feelings and the faculty of memory. Next to these realities which are common to all people, there are also notable differences: the traits of character of people are very different as well as gifts, talents and faculties, physical fitness and strength. Also in the religious make-up of people there are differences. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul writes: “Each one of us, however, has been given his own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it.” (Eph 4,7). The measure of grace which God gives is diverse; as are the tasks in the Church or the way in which the individual lives in Christ.

God chooses man
 
When we read the gospels, we see, that many people come to Jesus. They hear His message and are impressed by His words, they ask questions, and some of them are willing to change their lives. Jesus responds to the needs of people, He heals the sick, raises the dead and shares table with many people, even with those who are at the fringe of society because of their social status or because of their sinful lives. From some He demands to leave everything behind, to remain with Him and to share their whole lives with him. It becomes clear: the ways of God with men are diverse.
 

Behind the call of Jesus Christ to a relationship with Him of intimate friendship and love and to a specific task lies an election by God, His heavenly Father. This is an inexplicable mystery. God does not render account as to why He leads individuals in a particular way. Young people sometimes ask themselves: Why does Christ call me and not others? Would not others be better equipped? There are parents who realise that one of their children has greater love for prayer and religious matters although all children have received the same education and the same example. Sometimes young people are drawn to God although they come from a family background where the faith is not practised. Some people are astonished if young people who would have the capacity to pursue a career or to earn much money, leave everything behind and enter a convent. Some of them even think, that those young people have been talked into this, that they are seized by a dangerous enthusiasm or by religious obsession. How God leads people depends only on His choice.

»God’s light invites us but does not constrain us. God wants us to serve him in freedom and love.«
Mother Julia
God appeals to our freedom
 
 
An election by God is not a random thought of God which He or which man could change. God’s election comes from the unending depths of His love for the person concerned. It comes from His eternal goodness and wisdom and therefore must be taken very seriously. God does not give us a list with various choices and tasks for our lives and then tell us: look at those and then choose! In the moment in which we are called into existence, He has already a wise plan for our lives which also encompasses very minor details. He does not give us random choices, but offers us one course of life which we may choose in freedom. He does not disrespect our freedom. God is the first and the only one who completely respects our freedom. It belongs to His being that God has determined exactly what He wants for us and with us, and nevertheless respects our freedom. Indeed, it belongs to His greatness that He does not leave us even if we walk on detours, wrong ways, by-paths or go astray. He always comes close to us and tries to bring us back on the right path. He gives us the possibility to say ‘no’, but also makes us understand that our happiness can only be found in harmony with His will. Mother Julia, the Foundress of our Spiritual Family The Work once said: “God’s light invites us but does not constrain us. God wants us to serve him in freedom and love.”
Jesus Christ calls people
 

Jesus Christ came in this word to fulfill the will of the Father and to accomplish His work. Already in the Old Covenant there were people who were specially chosen and called: Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets etc. This divine call to a path which is not the path of the masses, continues in the New Covenant. Although it was commonly the case that young men presented themselves to a Rabbi to go into his school, Jesus acted differently. He does not wait for candidates. The gospel even tells us, that Jesus sent someone home who had wanted to stay with Him (cf. Lk 8:38f.) Jesus goes directly up to those He wants to choose and calls them: “Come, follow me!” (Mt 9:9). He does not give reasons for his call. He does not make an offer and adds: If you like it, you can come with me. The evangelist Mark recounts concerning the vocation of the twelve apostles: “And he appointed twelve; they were to be his companions and to be sent out to preach.” (Mk 3:14) Jesus calls those whom He wants to have and whom He knows to be chosen by the Father.

Lake of Galilee
Called into Jesus’ exclusive service
 
 
For what does God choose, for what does Jesus Christ call? There are two matters: First of all He calls people to a special closeness to Him, to a more intense friendship with Him, to an intimate familiarity with Him. Such people feel urged to more prayer, they have a special interest for everything that concerns God and the Faith. Jesus does not ‘command’ this special closeness and friendship “from the outside” as it were, but He awakens a longing in the heart of those who are called by the Father. This longing can often already be noticed in a young age. There are consecrated women who were already captivated by the dream to enter a convent when they received their First Holy Communion. Many priests were once altar servers and already thought of becoming priests when they served at the altar. The first aim of God’s election is the call and the courting invitation to belong entirely to Him and to live intensely with Him. What is so fascinating and attractive about following Christ is the possibility of entering into a communion of love and friendship with Him. This longing for the love of Christ is so strong, that it cannot be satisfied by the most perfect partner and the most interesting task in life, but only by Jesus Christ alone. Mother Julia once witnessed:

My joy is God, the threefold Holy One.
My joy is His life that draws me to Himself.
My joy is His will calling me.
My joy is His strength that guides me.
My joy is His heart in which I dwell.

Mother Julia

Jesus calls Simon Peter at the Lake of Galilee

The second aim of Christ’s call is to be sent by God and to be in His service. The special vocation into the service of the Lord is on one side very personal and demands of the person their entire freedom and life. It implies a life of deep union with Christ. On the other hand it is a calling in the service of people. God wants to save the whole of humanity, as we read in the Bible, especially in the New Testament, again and again. There is a great harvest. Many people are far from God, they do not know him, they live far from him, in ignorance, in the dissatisfaction of a purely worldly life, in guilt and in sin. God does not interest them nor do they fear him. But God is interested in them and wants their happiness and the fulfilment of their lives. The Lord needs apostles to gather in this great harvest. He needs people who make the growth of the Kingdom of God their sole concern. Every baptised person has to contribute to the great harvest. Parents have to educate their children in the Faith, young people and adults have to give an inviting and powerful witness to the Faith. Nevertheless there are various degrees of commitment. God asks of some, and those are not so few, that they make the growth of faith in other people the essential content of their lives. Therefore they are willing to sacrifice the foundation of a family and other beautiful tasks and dedicate themselves entirely to Him. This happens in the service of a priest or missionary, in education, in the hidden, but very precious life of prayer and love in the enclosed contemplative life, in the service of the poorest of the poor and in many other ways of consecration to God.
 
The election and vocation of those who are chosen by the Father and called by the Son consists in a gift and a task. The gift of the vocation is an intimate union of love with Him, the task is to give oneself completely for the building up of the Church. Here we can draw a parallel to marriage. Married couples love each other and their love becomes fruitful in their children. Baptised persons who have received a special calling love the Lord intensely and make this love fruitful in the apostolic life and in the awakening of a new life of faith in their spiritual sons and daughters.

 

The spiritual father- and motherhood
 
A life in the exclusive service of Jesus Christ in the strength of the Holy Spirit is a very fruitful life. People become happy if they beget new life. If one thinks only of oneself and of one’s own happiness, if this takes up too much of one’s time, strength and possibilities, one fails to live. Jesus says this very clearly to us: “For anyone who wants to save his life will lost it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.“ (Mt 16:25). The happiness of people depends on the measure of giving and loving. Those who have received a vocation to the Lord’s exclusive service are called to a celibate life for the sake of the kingdom of God. They are not to beget physical descendants, but spiritual children. The life of perfect chastity has a very positive aim: it awakens a new life of faith. Priests, Sisters and Brothers, hermits and consecrated virgins, missionaries and monks contribute very much to the fact that Jesus Christ is being ‘born’ in the hearts of many, that many grow in their faith in Christ, in listening to his Word, in their witness for His truth and in their surrender to His will. Renunciation of marriage it not a renunciation of love. On the contrary, those who are called into Christ’s exclusive service, have to be teachers of the love of God and love of neighbour, men of love, spiritual fathers and mothers. Therefore S. Teresa of Calcutta was rightly addressed as Mother, although she never bore a child. Therefore the priest is addressed in various languages as father: Pater, Father, Père, Padre etc. The spiritual father- and motherhood brings with it a happiness equal in joy to the happiness of physical father- and motherhood.
How do I recognise a vocation?
 
Not a few young people and (young) adults wrestle with this question. The most common, important and sure sign for a vocation is simply the fact that this thought is present in one’s own heart and mind. The thought of becoming a priest, Brother or Sister, appears, as we already said, not rarely, already in childhood. On one side this thought fascinates, on the other hand it frightens. “Is it meant for me? Does the Lord call me?” Almost everybody who becomes aware of this thought in himself puts up resistance to it. But this thought acts like a ‘skipjack’. One wishes to push it aside or to ban it completely, but it comes back. This thought or better to say the courting invitation of God to a life of total surrender is experienced in hours of silence and prayer. This is why some flee from an atmosphere of silence, because in such moments the thought which is at the moment still considered as unpleasant, can come up again. Then such people are like Jonah who fled from the call of the Lord. The thought of being called arises when one reads the life of a saint or in a meeting with those who have given their lives completely to God. This thought springs up when one feels: I would be needed here. God knows the moments in which He makes his election known to his chosen ones through his Holy Spirit.
Touched from the inside - called from the outside
 
 
A vocation needs a call, from the inside and from the outside. Many who have followed the Lord can confirm this: persons or circumstances, a book or a film, a meeting or a conversation, a pilgrimage, yes even a failure or a defeat were like an appeal through which Christ spoke to them. Christ calls people through people. Christ gives His voice to people so that He can speak through their voice, can console, proclaim, admonish and even call. 2000 years ago when He lived as man among men, He called individuals with His own voice, with His mouth, with a certain gaze, with a gesture. We read in the gospel: “As he was walking along by the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net in the lake - for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them: ‘Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.’” (Mk 1:16f.) What Jesus did then, He wants to do through us now. Certainly priests and consecrated men and women have here a particular responsibility: to continue the invitation of the call of Jesus through their word and their exemplary life.
There are also other signs to recognize a vocation: the joy and the urging to serve the Church and one’s neighbour, the interest in liturgy, in religious events, the interior attraction of silence, love for the Church etc.
 

However, God does not communicate his election so clearly that one cannot say ‘no’ or have doubts. His way is to give us signs and indications, to allow experiences which form us and which make us make search and struggle. But He gives to everyone as many signs as he needs. He guides everyone in their own way. Accounts of vocation are very exciting and touching stories, sometimes they are humorous, sometimes very ordinary, sometimes extraordinary, but always moving. They are stories which show the manifold ways in which God deals with his people.

This is what prayer really is - being in silent inward communion with God. Benedict XVI