More on Vocation, Discernment, and “Pastoral Response”

If you are wondering why I’ve been posting so much on vocation, it is because I have been, in the past few weeks, steeped in researching and writing a talk I will be giving at The Northwest Catholic Family Education Conference in less than two weeks.  The topic has, it seems, fostered a LOT of conversation among people.  I wish people would comment on the blog and not just my facebook page as I know the others who read these posts would appreciate their comments, since it creates for interesting discussion.

I want to begin by talking about the concept of pastoral response.  In my last post, I put forward that the concept of praying for vocations to the single life were probably due to the Church’s desire to offer some sort of pastoral comfort for those who have found themselves without a particular vocation.  I bring this up because I want to offer one suggestion of what would create an appropriate pastoral response on the part of the Church.

First off, a pastoral response should always be rooted in good theology, and theology should be based in good practice.  In other words, practice and truth always go hand in hand.  So, the Church’s response must always be rooted in her constant teaching.  I bring this up because I believe the Church has received a gift that is not used often enough: that gift is the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.  I have been reading a few books lately that have all lead me to discovering in a deeper way his concepts of discernment.  What I find so refreshing in his thought is the constant clarity that he offers in the realm of discernment.  So often, when it comes to the spiritual life in general, and in particular discerning a vocation, so many factors get in the way of seeing clearly what it is God has for our life.  Discernment is not meant to be a complicated process.

Yet, we live in a world where complication seems to be the norm of life.  Emotions, circumstances, relations, finances, etc, all get in the way of our seeing clearly what it is God wants for us.  I say all this not as a pre-cursor to elucidating St Ignatius’ method of discernment: I have not read enough on the exercises to adequately comment on them yet.  Rather, what I have discovered in him is clarity, and I think the Church would do well to listen to the gift St Ignatius offers so as to better guide people in the realm of discernment.  I look around and see many people who are confused vocationally: they are legitimately frozen when it comes to making a vocational choice.  Yet the big reason many are “vocationally frozen” is because they have not received adequate education and direction in the realm of discernment.  If only every priest were given adequate training in the exercises, they would be able to help and guide those who come to them in confession and for spiritual guidance.  That is just one point: discernment would be a lot easier if people were given the adequate tools, provided by St Ignatius, to discern things in their lives.

Now, to comments people posted on Facebook.

One person commented asked about the person for whom both religious life and marriage turn out to be a practical impossibility.  This is true, it happens.  There is a difference between one being called either naturally or supernaturally – what we call the objective call because it is outside of the person called – and the ability to respond and discern – the subjective element of the call.  We must admit to the fact that what we live in is a fallen world.  It means that a variety of circumstances arise which are not in our control which thus affect our ability to respond to a call.  Perhaps there is sickness in our life, or perhaps the person we are called to marry doesn’t necessarily present themselves, or perhaps the bishop or religious order we appeal to for entrance into priesthood or religious life is not open to hearing God’s call and affirming it in us.  There are a variety of things which could thus get in the way.  I don’t want to make it seem that people are worse off if they are single and without fulfilling a vocation.  It does indeed happen.  What I am simply trying to say is that objectively, each person has a call to either priesthood/religious life or to marriage.  Subjectively, it may not be possible to sufficiently respond through no fault of the person called.  There are many nuances here that, unfortunately, a blog post can’t cover.

Someone made a comment that some people live as single persons by choice, out of a sense of vocation: teachers, activists, etc.  They went on to say that vowdness seems to imply only being part of a religious order.  I made a minor comment in that post which may have gone unknown to many readers, and that was the concept of the private vow.  Just because someone does not make formal vows does not mean they are not living vows in their lives.  In the end, every Christian is called to the counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Some are called to live it more literally than others.  So many people who, to us, would be singles, would, in a way, be living a religious vocation.  Perhaps they’ve made a vow in their heart to God, through prayer, through a spiritual director.  In some cases, this vowdness may not even manifest itself in an entirely clear way even to them, but it will take form in their lives.

in Christ




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2 responses to “More on Vocation, Discernment, and “Pastoral Response”

  1. Mike

    Hi all, I was one of the posters on Facebook.

    I guess my problem is with the definition of vocation. Not being a Catholic, or Christian, or even a theist at all, I have some difficulty understanding the concept of Vocation – as I understand it, Vocation is a life path that will lead someone to actualize their potential. To me, it seems wrong, and borderline insulting to assume that those who cannot or choose not to marry will live inferior lives to those who marry or take vows, be they private or public. As I wrote in my facebook post: Teachers, community activists, etc. – they all give of themselves out of love, while remaining single and outside the community of the religious. Arguing that the only two legitimate vocations are religious or married life marginalizes all single Catholics not under holy orders and incapable or unwilling to marry.

    Most marginalized of all is the celibate Catholic Homosexual community who, as if it weren’t bad enough that they take flak from both directions, must now choose between marrying someone they are not sexually attracted to or taking vows they may not feel called upon to take if they want the chance of finding a vocation.

  2. Breann

    I think I get more what you meant now. I was thinking of a certain people I know who are living single lives and whom I cannot imagine as selfish or avoiding God’s will for their lives; they are so completely dedicated to their respective vocations: teaching and ministry and so on. At least one of them I know has taken private vows. Also of course of myself, who am neither holy nor particularly dedicated to anything except getting well at the moment, and trying to figure out what this whole vocation business is about exactly, since I seem to have missed the mark in my previous attempts to understand it.

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