Today I'm going to start our first series at our new blog in which we discuss the theology or doctrine of "vocation." Vocation is a word that originated within Christianity, but has been co-opted by the wider Western society in such a way that it has lost much of its original significance. These days, when a person speaks of one's "vocation," most folks typically see this as synonymous with one's occupation. That is, whatever a person spends most of his or her time doing, whether it be working at a particular job, going to school, or even being a stay-at-home parent, is considered to be his or her vocation. The way the word was originally used, however, is less about what a person actually does than what sort of calling God has placed on his or her life. This can be seen in the original Latin word, vocatio, meaning "a call" or "a summons," reminiscent of a summons to appear before the court or before the king.
Prior to the Reformation, the Church typically only recognized a handful vocations:
- The general call of all humanity to come to the Lord for salvation
- The specific call to the married life, whereby one reflects God and his plan in faithful family relationships
- The specific call to the single life, whereby one is obedient to God by living a life of chastity until such time as one enters into the sacrament of holy matrimony.
- The specific call to the religious life as a monk or nun, whereby one vows to live a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience, that is typically characterized by prayer and service in the context of a religious community.
- The specific call to holy orders, whereby a man serves the Church as a deacon, priest, or bishop, ministering in Word and Sacrament in persona Christi.
Now, this is certainly not all there is to say about the traditional vocations. There are, for example, many priests who are also vowed religious. And the call to the single life is much more than simply waiting around for marriage! Nevertheless, by the time of the Reformation, the popular perspective on the traditional vocations had gone a bit off track. Many people thought that the only way to serve God was through the vowed religious life or through holy orders. It was also not uncommon for people to pursue holy orders for political reasons, as the Church was very influential in society.
Because of these problems, the Martin Luther, followed by the other Reformers, began to emphasize another perspective on vocation: the call to serve God in whatever state a person my be put, including “secular” occupations. Though this concept seemed to have been all but forgotten, it was by no means a new idea, but rather echoes much of what we find in Scripture. For example, St. Paul writes:
Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God (1 Cor 7:20-24, ESV).
Over the next several months, we’ll feature posts by guest authors from a variety of vocations to tell their vocation stories. As we learn more about the doctrine of vocation, we can better serve God with joy in whatever state in which we are called. We can also learn to discern God’s calling in our lives, and thereby learn to see Him ordering our lives, even during those times when His guiding hand his harder to notice. It's in this discernment that we come to see the intersection between our occupation and our vocation and can say along with St. Paul:
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:11b-13, ESV).
Posted on August 9, 2014
by Fr. Isaac Rehberg filed under