Vocation: who calls? 

Imagine there is a word used by a group of people to mean, "call." Imagine some within the group begin to use the word to apply only to themselves, or their "call." It takes no imagination to understand the great confusion this situation would cause. While all peoples hear "call" to include themselves, this "call" would happen parallel to the smaller, perhaps more powerful, group's use of the word to apply only to themselves. 

This has been the situation for the word, "vocation," in the Roman Catholic Church for a long time. It is with great relief then, not to mention gratitude, to see the Church returning the word "vocation" to the world, to all of us, to the heart of the definition of vocation. The word is from the Latin, vocatio, a calling, from the Latin, vocare, to call: a special urge, inclination or predisposition to a particular "calling," or career, esp. a religious one. Religious we take to mean a deep commitment to creation. 

As Emmanuel Levinas, the remarkable Jewish scholar and the Lutheran, Dietrich Bonhoeffer have said, while not negating tradition or particular practice, we are joined together in a belief that the words of the Rabbi, Jesus, truly mean we are all given the opportunity, or gift, of a call to the service of God in this world as seen in relationship with all creation, including human kind.

What does this mean then to the young, or older person, discerning a "call?" Firstly, it means no one is excluded: a call to which we respond fully, in the service of creation, is not better or worse than another but is equal to any other. Our duty is singular: we must do all in our power to allow individuals to hear their own "call," the one that resonates for them, allows that individual to touch at heart, or soul, who they are; thus enabling their contribution to God's creation.

But what does this really mean? It means, it seems to me, firstly, encountering each person as a gift, unique and capable of serving God. It means truly seeing the gifts of that person -- sometimes difficult as that might be -- and acknowledging these gifts. It means recognizing service to creation comes about in as many forms as there are individuals on earth. It means not imposing a hierarchy of worthiness but imagining any "inclination," or "special urge," or "predisposition" we see in another as the seat or possible manner in which this person will both hear and answer their "call." 

Whether we are called to healing, as is a nurse or artist, or teaching, as is an educator or athlete, or service, as is a cook or social worker, or social and religious continuity, as are museum curators or the clergy, is not a matter of hierarchy, or even, often, a matter of choice. The issue is the "call," the discernment of such and the commitment undertaken. We may each only contribute to another's vocation through understanding, encouragement and support. We do not know if a gifted runner will entertain, act as a role model, teach, inspire, or not. We may only recognize the person, the gift, and imagine it as a possible way (perhaps not known to us) for service to creation. This recognizing, or naming, or repeating back to the other our experience of their gift is in itself a gift. In this world of many influences and competing pressures discerning or taking seriously a gift or "call" of another may begin with this simple gesture.

Alas, when we were children dreaming the world renewed in our own special way, we often did not know this was our gift. No one told us our way of seeing was a unique. We do not lay blame for our elders often not understanding that our dream was the link to our "call," but we do now insist on -- and give thanks for -- a return to the largeness of the word, vocation, a "call" for each one of us, a gift waiting to be awakened, to participate in creation.

Anne Campbell, 
Writer, and former Coordinator of the Office for Ecumenism, Archdiocese of Regina
annecampbell [dot] reginaatsk [dot] sympatico [dot] ca (E-mail)

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