Being Called: the Three Parties to a Vocation

The Mass readings for today (the call of Samuel in 1 Samuel 3, and the call of Andrew and Simon Peter in John 1) always make me think about the nature of vocation, especially the nature of a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life.

I hope that we are great encouragers of vocation here at Howton Grove, but people sometimes react with indignation when we remind them of an important truth. There are always three parties to a priestly or religious vocation: God, the individual, and the community (i.e. the Church). Without God’s initiative, there can be no call; without the individual, there can be no response; and without the Church’s discernment and acceptance, there can be no realisation of the call-response of an individual vocation. We may feel that we are called by God to be or do something, but we have to lay that sense of calling before the Church. That part of the process is often overlooked or regarded as unimportant, whereas in reality it is crucial and must be accompanied by much thought and prayer on all sides. It can be quite devastating to the individual if the Church’s response is not the one hoped for or expected; and it can be quite devastating to the Church if insufficient care is given to the selection and training of candidates.

Please join us today in praying for those who are discerning a vocation, those who are trying to help them and bear the responsibility of ‘testing the spirits, to see whether they are from God’, and those who have gone away sad, feeling rejected and unable to accept that the Lord may be asking something different from what they had hoped or believed he was asking.


12 thoughts on “Being Called: the Three Parties to a Vocation”

  1. Thank you for this. I am in the process of discerning if it is God’s call to be an Oblate attached to my local Holy Cross Community. They too will be discerning if it is God’s call for me as this article is again a timely reminder. Every blessing

  2. It’s 20 years since the Church decided I hadn’t got a vocation and I still feel rejected. My head tells me it was the right decision but my heart doesn’t necessarily agree!

  3. “and it can be quite devastating to the Church if insufficient care is given to the selection and training of candidates”…well said, Sr Catherine! Sadly this situation can cause immense pain to loving, faithful church communities who find themselves dealing with a situation that should not have been allowed to arise in the first place. Careless selection and training may have unforeseen consequences further down the line.

    • Sadly, we only tend to recognize the truth of this when there is abuse or some other wrong-doing to address. Interestingly, most of the responses I’ve had today have tended to concentrate on the individual’s feelings of rejection rather than on the responsibility of the community/Church to discern God’s will and to be accountable for the decisions made.

  4. Thank you for your encoraging and clarifying article on vocation. God, me and the church community must go hand in hand. Yet my situation does not fit well to the theory. When I ask the church to co-discern my calling to go to China as a missionary, my church did not come to a fore in clarifying my call. As a result, I did not feel it is a church matter, but my personal business. Church and individual are like being in a different arena. I am still in limbo. Please pray for my uncertainty and fear.

    • I am not clear whether you are referring to the Catholic Church, a local church community or some other entity — or what you are asking (e.g. financial support/’official’ status?). Within the Catholic Church there are some well-defined routes to go down. In the case of religious, the Congregation for Consecrated Life and Institutes of Apostolic Life is immensely helpful, in my experience. One’s diocesan bishop can be, too, as was the case with Bishop Crispian Hollis when we were in his diocese. We will pray for you.

  5. I think this is addressed well here for its intended purpose, but I would reiterate a caveat that not all callings fit in the context of a monastic or clerical community.

    Saul of Tarsus in particular comes to mind (and a litany of others if we take the time), where even if their ultimate standing was within the “Church”, their calling was solitary, and often not recognized by such until centuries later. How many founders of orders did so to fill a spiritual niche they would fit in but did not already exist?

    It can be vital to have a community assist in a discernment process (and let’s be honest, filter those who might disrupt harmony or transgress whatever dogmatic lines we have drawn), but how many Saints have we alienated over the ages through this process?

    Not that I would encourage “rogue” ministries as a rule, but we must also examine if there are even real opportunities to fit the shape of some people’s hearts within the many mansions of Church ministry. Or maybe we should further contemplate if people who are left outside the door would have been if our founders of our orders would have answered … or if we perhaps have lost many another Saul of Tarsus.

    • Thank you. I think possibly I have not made myself clear. I was talking solely about discernment of a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life, i.e. to an existing entity. In the case of new institutes, the Catholic Church has a tried and tested route one has to follow to gain recognition and approval— we’ve done that ourselves. In each case the Church is fulfilling her duty of care and discernment — just as she did when she appointed Matthias to take the place of Judas, and when she nnumbered Paul among the teachers of the faith. I don’t accept your reading of Saul/Paul’s ministry: it had to be validated by the Church (i.e. the apostles) before it could continue. Where we probably would agree, I hope, is in recognizing that it isn’t necessary to be a priest or a member of a religious order or institute to be holy. St Joseph Benedict Labre comes to mind immediately.

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