Last Thursday, Integritas met for its last seminar of the year to consider the theme of vocation with Fr. Bill Miscamble, CSC, a professor in Notre Dame's History Department. We read excerpts from Gaudium et Spes, Lumen Gentium, Ranier Maria Rilke's Letter from Worpswede, Dorothy Day's The Final Word is Love, and Fr. Julian Carron's address to the Community and Liberation community, "The One Voice of the Ideal." The seminar sought to address questions such as, What are we made for, as human beings? How do we discern what we are called to as individuals? What is our daily vocation? How are our professions involved with vocation? Why does Christian vocation involve permanent commitment to marriage or celibacy? What is the role of the laity in the Church? How can both religious and lay Christians contribute in unique ways to the mission of the Church and live out the universal call to holiness?
Fr. Bill started by reminding the students about how focused they were on getting into college a couple of years ago, and how that sometimes seemed to be the final goal of all of their activities. That can leave some students feeling adrift when they finally enter college and realize that college isn't an end in itself, but formation for life, and they need guidance in identifying the scope of their lives. Lumen Gentium affirms that no matter what material work one is called to, all have been given a universal call to holiness: "If therefore in the Church everyone does not proceed by the same path, nevertheless all are called to sanctity and have received an equal privilege of faith through the justice of God. And if by the will of Christ some are made teachers, pastors and dispensers of mysteries on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ."
Fr. Bill also drew our attention to the way that maxims for successful living are often directed at us, such as "show up on time!" but such maxims fail to address the horizon of vocation: where are we supposed to show up? Sometimes it's hard to see what our daily routines ultimately add up to.
Before Vatican II, the word 'vocation' was often used exclusively to refer to the call to the priesthood or religious life, and Catholics lost sight of the vocation of the laity. Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium both emphasize that every person has a vocation, a special calling to reveal the love of God in the world, and their gifts, talents, and state in life all serve that work. God's plan for each one of us is for us to become conformed to Christ.
Since Man is a social being, for everyone, vocation will involve commitment to community. All of our work should both serve the development of our societies and our own development as persons: "For when a man works he not only alters things and society, he develops himself as well. He learns much, he cultivates his resources, he goes outside of himself and beyond himself. Rightly understood this kind of growth is of greater value than any external riches which can be garnered."
There should be no division between who we are in our religious life and who we are in our public or social life. All Christians, regardless of vocation, have both temporal and spiritual responsibilities, which lead us to be integrated into society but also to stand as a sign of contradiction to the totally secular world.
Just as there is a universal call to holiness, Lumen Gentium explains the corresponding universal priestly vocation of all the baptized. All of us were created to offer the world and our work up to God: all that we do, all that we suffer, can be offered for the glorification of God and the building up of the Kingdom of God. We all participate in the common priesthood of the faithful, while some men among us are called also to the ministerial priesthood of Christ. Ordained priests offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, while the laity offer the sacrifice of their daily lives: "...the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. for all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne--all these become 'spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.'"
Dorothy Day certainly recognized that spiritual reality in her reflections on her life in the Catholic Worker movement. She speaks of the way that her circumstances demanded of her love in the form of the corporal works of mercy: "We were just sitting there talking when lines of people began to form, saying 'We need bread.' We could not say, 'Go, be thou filled.' If there were six small loaves and a few fishes, we had to divide them. There was always bread." She also emphasized that no matter what form their work took, the most central aspect was love: "We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community."
Ranier Marie Rilke encouraged us to cultivate an attitude of openness and attentiveness so that we will be ready to hear the call of vocation when it comes and breaks through our uncertainty: "have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. and the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
Finally, Fr. Julian Carron offered concrete considerations to reflect on when trying to discern one's vocation: What are my talents and gifts? What am I attracted to? What do the world and the Church need? How can I meet that need? What are my material circumstances? What can I do within the limitations of my situation?
Our hope is that through the seminars and activities of Integritas this year, we have caught a glimpse of the beginnings of answers to some of these questions, and have begun to practice living the questions into answers.