Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth


``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


VIII.
Vocations

The whole purpose of all our work as parents is, of course, to prepare our children to cooperate with God's grace, to choose the vocation He has ready for them and to carry out that vocation to the full. In the last two chapters, we have been considering this aspect of the children's preparation for life here and hereafter, how to give them some understanding of the whole fourfold work of Christians in this world, and some experience and training in each kind. It may be well, therefore, to consider next how we may best give them a realistic idea of each of the chief ways of life, or what are commonly called "vocations" in the Church.

The first essential here is, obviously, that, by the time the children reach an age to choose their own way of life, they may have some real grasp of the Christian vocation as a whole. We must try to make sure, in other words, that they realize that their lives on earth are given them for the purpose of being united with conformed to, Christ in His Passion and Death so as to share with Him in the glory of His Resurrection.

In terms of the life ahead of them, this realization implies that the children understand that no way of life is meant to be easy, that they have no right to future freedom from want or care. It means that they look forward to life as an heroic adventure, a chance to spend themselves and be spent with Christ for the sake of His members.

It means that they understand, as well as young people can, that many stretches of their lives will seem painful, many will seem difficult, many will seem dull, but that all this is a sharing in Christ's Cross with the assurance of sharing in His victory, and all this, if lived with Christ and for the glory of God's love, will be permeated with the vitality and joy of the Holy Spirit.

Young people are normally heroic-minded, they want to be called on for heroism, they want to be convinced that their strength and talents can be used for some great cause. We shall, therefore, have the assistance both of grace and nature in giving them the Christian view of their future lives.

On the other hand, we shall obviously have to contend with the whole tone of the society in which we and our children are living, which encourages young people to believe that security and success, especially security, are the two chief aims of life, that one is entitled to a "good living," especially if one has had a "good education," that if one obeys all the rules one will inevitably "get ahead." And we shall also have to take into account the depressing undertones registered in much modern literature and in the actual mental and emotional state of innumerable ordinary citizens, that life actually is a rather dreary fuss about very little, so you might as well get as much out of it as you can when you are young.

We shall need, then, to try to debunk both these ideas, to offset both these mental tones, as the children become aware of them and begin to react to them. We shall have to show the children from actual cases, first, that no human life is in fact easy or inevitably prosperous, and that in any case people who are called successful are not necessarily happy.

We shall have to show them that, in consequence, when our Lord gives us the chance to use our lives for Him, following Him in His Passion, He is not making our lives dismal--as if they could be comfortable and serene if we were allowed to live them on a purely natural level; rather He is taking the stuff of actual human life which is, by and large, dreary and dismal indeed when it is not lived in Him and for Him, and giving it real meaning and purpose, glorifying it with the glory of His victory over death and sin, and making it truly joyful with the joy of His resurrection.

Giving the children this dynamic pattern of Christian life, at least implicitly, is of course the supreme work of all the years of their training. But at the time when they are seriously beginning to think of their choice of a way of life, they will want and need trusted advisors other than their parents. We should, then, look forward to this time when explicit teaching from us about the future will probably be of no use to our children, and try to see to it that they have come to know and trust and confide in other people, laymen, religious, and priests, who are endeavoring to live heroically Christian lives. Our part then will probably be that of prayer; whatever else we can do to help our children find their vocation will, in the main, have been done already.

Within the unity of the one Christian pattern of life, the great Christian vocation, the children will need to know something of each of the chief ways of Christian life and of the special place of each in carrying out the one work of Christ, the redemption of mankind.17 Of course, nobody can fully appreciate what a vocation implies until one is actually living it; but one can know what are its essential features according to God's plan, what are accidentals, and what each vocation is not meant to be.

But we owe our children at least that much of a grasp of all the great "vocations" in the Church, so that they may have all the information they need in order to cooperate intelligently and freely with God's grace in their choice of a vocation, and also that they may be better fitted to carry out that vocation fully. For, since all vocations are meant by God to contribute their own share to the one work of Christ, the more a man appreciates what other people are doing, the better can he carry out his own special task. The greater the priest, the more fully he appreciates the work of laity and religious; the greater the layman, the more he appreciates his priests and religious, and so on.

We want our children, then, to see a vocation to the priesthood as a call to become another Christ in the very special sense of taking part in His work of mediation between God and man in a unique and special way. All Christians share by Baptism and Confirmation in our Lord's office as Priest; but our share can only be made fully operative by the special work of the ordained priesthood.

We marry and have children to bring to the font of re-birth in Christ; the priest baptizes them. We train them to be Christ's soldiers and co-workers; the Bishop gives them by Confirmation their actual commission and the powers to act on it. We gather human learning and experience; the priest teaches us God's truth from day to day so that in its light and by its power we may continually transform our human experience into Christian wisdom.

We rule ourselves and our families and our businesses to try to provide the necessary order, the conditions of human and Christian living; the priest rules some part of Christ's flock so as to make our lives fruitful for life everlasting.

We bring to the sacrifice of the Mass our whole lives and work, along with the money our work has earned to provide the materials for the sacrifice; the priest transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, makes it possible for us to offer ourselves in His offering, and gives us Christ's Body in holy Communion to unite us together in love, to give us the energy for Christian living, to transform us into Him.

It is the work of Christ's priest, then, to unite God and man, to make the life of the people of God both possible and fruitful. He it is who, as Christ's special instrument, gives other people's lives their Christian meaning and value. Like the Holy Father himself, the chief Shepherd of Christ's flock on earth, every priest is the "servant of the servants of God," and so he achieves his own sanctity by this splendid and selfless service.

Thus the priest's vocation is unique. He is part of the teaching, ruling, sanctifying hierarchy of the Church; all the rest of us make up the laos, the People of God, all leading the one Christian life.

Now the highest way of living this Christian life is, of course, as a religious. For religious are called to specialize in the acts of the virtue of religion, the acts that directly bind man to God: taking part in the Mass, the Divine Office, prayer. We married people ordinarily have to subordinate to the works and duties of our own state in life more than the essential minimum of such strictly "religious" actions. But for the religious they constitute, as laid out in his Rule, the very essence of his daily life.

Again, religious are called to specialize directly in living and perfecting themselves in the bridal relationship of the Church with Christ. We all share in this relationship as Christians; it is the very purpose of our existence; but married people are called to work towards perfect union with Christ as it were indirectly, by learning and practicing the love of each other in Christian marriage. Religious, on the other hand, explicitly by vow, deny themselves the symbol, and go straight toward the reality, the eternal Marriage of redeemed mankind with Christ.

In the same way, we who are in the world try to use goods and possessions rightly so as to bring them into the sphere of Christ's life and work, so as to help to restore all things in Him. But religious deny themselves the free use of possessions so as to be freer for the work of uniting themselves to God. We who are in the world are sanctified by our obedience to God's will as it is shown to us in the Commandments, in the duties of our state and work, and in all the circumstances of our lives. But religious are called to take the far clearer and surer way of obedience, under the Commandments, to their Rules and to their Superiors.

A vocation to the religious life is, then, a call to a state of life higher and more extraordinary than that of marriage and lay life in the world for the reason that it dispenses with the, so to speak, slower and more indirect means of sanctification which are necessary for the majority of Christians. The religious life takes a difficult but clear and straight shortcut to the summit of the mountain; married and lay life is planned by God to arrive at the same goal by a less clear, more winding path which has been suited by His mercy to the needs of His ordinary children.

There is also the vocation which seems to be a special answer to the special needs of today--a life of dedicated virginity in the world, lived in family-like groups, whose purpose it is to give an example of integral Christian living, and to work out ways and means of helping other people to live fully Christian lives. This vocation is essentially "lay," in that it implies no withdrawal from the world (using the word in its good sense, as in "God so loved the world"), but rather a special study and effort to carry out the lay vocation of using the things of the world rightly.

It also shares in the complete dedication of self directly to Christ, which is characteristic of the religious. The vocation to a lay institute would seem to be a call to live the life of a religious, but, because of one's special circumstances or work, to lead this life in the world, not in a cloister.

The special characteristic of a vocation for a single Christian "in the world" consists in its freedom to concentrate on carrying out some particular work for the sake of Christ and His members. A priest is bound to answer the call of his bishop in serving the flock of Christ as a priest. No special taste, talent or training for, say, writing or teaching chemistry or scientific research can be put ahead of his obedient service as a priest of Christ's flock.

The religious is also bound primarily by his whole rule of life, by the day's schedule and by his obedient service of the good of the whole community. His superiors may take his special tastes, talents, or training into consideration in assigning him to his work, or they may not; he may be changed from one field to another overnight, if the good of his soul and the community demands it.

Obviously, too, married people are obligated first of all to the duties and demands of their state of life. Husband and wife are bound, ordinarily to arrange their lives so as to have time and energy to perfect their married life; parents are bound, again in general, to keep sufficient time and energy for the work of parenthood. Only the single Christian "in the world" is free to concentrate on his work, to put his special work for God and his neighbor above the demands of a whole pattern of life directed toward the same service.

This characteristic of freedom from the demands of a special Christian pattern of life for a particular form of Christian work gives this state of life its value as a preparation for the other vocations of Christian living. It leaves young men and women free to try various kinds of work, free to prepare themselves for some special work and to get started in it, before they take on a whole pattern of life into which that work must be fitted.

Since our children will certainly be leading this single life "in the world" from the time that they take over the responsibility for arranging their own lives until they enter, if they do, into the priesthood or religious life or marriage (all during the years of their college and professional training, for instance), we should give them some idea of its special value and of its special hazards, the hazards that arise out of its very freedom from a pattern or from the demands of the other ways of life.

Various kinds of formal dedication to the single Christian life and to some special work are ways of making explicit the fact that this way of life is not meant to be only a stage on the road to other vocations, but may also be a true vocation in itself. And this vocation lacks the safeguards, the supports, the frame-work of the others, while it puts itself at the service of all the others. Christian family living, the works of the priesthood and religious, all are made less difficult and more fruitful by the work of the single Christian. All of us should in gratitude give him or her the honor that is due to one who is pursuing such a great vocation of service, whether it was more or less inspired by the will of God under the guise of circumstances, or undertaken of set purpose.

As our children begin to ask questions about each state of life, we can begin to outline the characteristics of each vocation. And we can also do everything in our power to see that they come to know men and women who are leading these vocations to the full. But our special task as parents in preparing our children for the choice of a vocation is, surely, to show them as fully as we can during all the years of their growth the special characteristics, rewards, and difficulties of our own state of life, the vocation of marriage. For such understanding of this vocation as our own home life can give, should shed light on many aspects of other vocations as well.

The first necessity here is, surely, that we ourselves should be convinced that marriage is a vocation, that is, a Christian way of life planned by God to lead men and women to holiness; and that we should be trying to act accordingly. We must, then, take every means in our power--study, prayer, thought, effort--to convince ourselves that marriage is truly a way of holiness, the way that God has chosen for us.

We must avoid all temptations even to dream about how much holier, healthier, more fully developed, etc., we might have been in some other state--temptations that occasionally beset even the most happily married!--for such dreams bear fruit in our remarks and our outward attitude, and the children may come to feel that we are bitter against home life and marriage as such.

For this purpose, most of us need frequently to re-think and meditate on the fact that marriage has been planned by God as the usual vocation not only of mankind in general, but of the great majority of His own people, the holy nation, the royal priesthood of the Church. And in the light of the sacramental principle of His dealings with us, we can begin to see why He did so. For the way of Christian marriage is beautifully suited to the needs of human creatures who are made up of bodies and souls, and inclined by original and actual sin to make too much of the needs of their bodies.

The essential characteristic of Christian marriage is to lead us by means of the rightful use of our physical powers, as well as our mental and spiritual, to the fullness of knowledge and love and service of God. Our Lord has made marriage a sacrament, the sacrament which is the sign of the union between Christ and His Church for which mankind was made. The whole life of marriage, then, and the act which is characteristic of that life, partake of the sacredness of this union between Christ and His Church, and are means toward our achieving it more and more perfectly.

The great difficulty about the vocation of marriage for many of us today (especially, perhaps, what are called well-educated men and women) is to learn how to appreciate the sacramental value of the whole physical side of married life, not only of the marriage act, but of all the processes of childbearing and child care and of ordinary household tasks. A great many of us never realized until we were married and had children that human life was so very physical, or that so much time and effort has to be spent on basic physical needs. Our education, our special training, our 'careers' had given us to suppose that our bodies were more or less incidental to our human make-up, rather useful instruments, perhaps, or annoying handicaps, but not to be particularly considered in getting ahead either on earth or toward heaven.

We need, then, to devote thought and prayer to the sacramental significance which God Himself has given to all the basic functions of ordinary married and home life. We need to realize, (at least in the depths of our souls, if not explicitly at the end of Monday morning), that cooking and cleaning and tidying and so on are not merely regrettable necessities in family life, but are meant by God to raise our minds and our hearts to Him, and to be a part of our reasonable service of Him in the vocation of marriage.

If we try to live, then, as if the whole of married life were truly a vocation, our children should grow up with some real idea of what Christian marriage is and is meant to be. They will see it neither as a path of roses, starting at the altar on the wedding morning, along which a young man and woman and a growing train of healthy happy children dance easily up to the gates of heaven, nor as a dreary form of human bondage into which the majority of mankind is trapped by the force of sexual desire and the pressure of society and circumstances. (Nor as the horrid combination of these two pictures which is the impression given by all too many Catholic writers and preachers.)

The children will realize, rather, that Christian marriage rightly lived is the vocation in which we learn to love God and all our neighbors with the love of Christ, primarily by loving one man or woman, and some special children; that it is the vocation of trying to use rightly the things that are seen for the sake of the unseen God; and of helping to build up His kingdom by helping Him to make and form its chosen stones, our children.

Such a view of marriage should also shed light on the other great vocations of Christian life, as they resemble it or differ from it. And it should also help to prevent our children from choosing the wrong vocation, or from choosing the right one for mistaken or warped motives. For one thing, they should not be easily misled into thinking that holiness and the full service of God and neighbor can only be sought in the priesthood or the religious life, for they will have learned that these are the purposes of every Christian life.

Nor will they think that the desire to spend themselves and their talents for God can be satisfied only in the priesthood or the dedicated single life. They will not think that marriage or 'ordinary life' is meant to be an easy way to heaven, so that they would be likely to refuse a real call to the priesthood or religious life or the dedicated single life on the grounds of hardship or difficulty. Nor will there be, please God, any of that shrinking from sex or mistaken valuation of its pleasures which can so complicate both the choice of a vocation and its fulfillment.

And so the children should be at least comparatively free to choose their own vocation and life work in accordance with God's will. They should be free to put the question in the right form: What does God want me to do? rather than: What do I want to do, like to do, think I can get ahead in, etc. And they should then be free to use all the proper means to find the right answer to that question--their own knowledge of themselves and their capabilities, circumstances, the advice of authorities, and, above all, prayer and the search to conform themselves to God's will.

Then, even if they do not feel sure of what God wants of them when they finish their education, even if they have to feel their way, to try various kinds of work, to take the first step towards more than one vocation, they will be sure that God does have a vocation for them, and that if they keep asking and seeking and knocking, in His own best time He will show them what it is.

Study Questions

1. What is the meaning of the term "Christian vocation"? Does the term have meaning only for those who enter the religious life?

2. What are the chief aims of life according to secular standards?

3. What is the work of Christ's priests?

4. What are the characteristics of a call to the life of a single Christian in the world?

5. What, according to the author, are the most important aspects of Christian marriage?

Discussion Topics

1. Discuss the author's statement that "Young people are normally heroic-minded." To what extent does the secular standard of security and pleasure and ease affect modern youth? How can we rebuild the mentality that the various Christian vocations are challenging and exciting and truly satisfying?

2. List the various factors that seem to be productive of religious vocations in families. What can be done to increase the number of religious vocations?

3. Discuss marriage as a vocation. What does the author mean by stating that we must learn "to appreciate the sacramental value of the whole physical side of married life."

4. Discuss the role of parents in aiding their children to choose the right vocation, and for the right reasons. Is there any danger that children will be poorly prepared for their vocation even if they have the right motive?

5. Reflect on the dignity of the priesthood. What practices and attitudes on the part of parents help to build a respectful and balanced understanding of the clergy in the minds of the children? What practices and attitudes may lead to critical and unappreciative ideas about the function of the priesthood?

Continue:
The Christian Pattern
Our Neighbors
"...You Did It Unto Me"
Things
Places
Work
Training for Life's Work and Play
Vocations
Redeeming the Times
Sex Education
Attaining Our Ideals

 

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