Everyone wants to know where they are going and how they are
meant to get there. Vocational discernment is the process of determining the
answers to these questions.
In my work in the RCAV Vocations and Seminarians Office, I recently received an email from a woman named Natalie Smith of vocationsplacement.org. From many years of helping others discover their vocations, Natalie has advice to offer which seems to me both practical and profound.
Typically, the word “vocation” is defined as the special “call” of God in the life of each person.
Natalie suggests that each person’s vocation is also like a “place,” a kind of “Promised Land” (on the way to our final Promised Land of heaven) in which the graces for that person’s conversion flow like milk and honey. In the Promised Land of his or her vocation, each person begins to experience the “abundant life” which Christ said he came to bring (Jn 10:10).
Natalie offers her advice free of charge on her website in videos and articles. I have tried to summarize her main points below. Is there someone in your life who would benefit from this?
1. Know where you are going.
· Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it in abundance.” Jesus came to give you abundant life. This is his plan for you. When you set out to find your vocation, you are taking a journey like that of the Israelites who set out from Egypt to find the abundant life of the Promised Land. Your vocation is a Promised Land of abundant life for you.
· As such, your vocation is like a sacrament. When you have found it, you have found what is for you the single most powerful way of drawing closer to Jesus this side of heaven. You will be, so to speak, “at the top of your game.”
· Finding your vocation and living it is therefore great cause for rejoicing. When you have found it, don’t waste the graces your vocation is making available to you! (For those of us who have already discovered our vocation, this is a good reminder.)
2. The Promised Land of your vocation involves others.
· The abundant life that Jesus promises is a communal experience. Heaven, the consummation of this abundant life, is a community, or rather, a “communion of saints”.
· Your vocation will be a kind of practice for the communion which is heaven. To drive home this point, Natalie defines your vocation as “the place where you give love, receive love, and grow in God, who literally is Love”.
· Finding the person or community of persons with whom you are to begin practising for heaven is therefore key to finding your vocation.
· These people (or this person!) will have the ability, more than any other people you may encounter, to unlock for you, by their words and actions, the mysteries of God’s universe. They have “special authoritative grace for your conversion.” They will be of the “same fabric as you,” and recognize and love Jesus within you, as you will within them.
· If this reciprocity of love is missing, it is a sure sign that you have not found your vocation. If your love is not returned by the other (or others, as in a particular religious community), Natalie’s advice is, “Forget them!”
· Write on your mirror, “I deserve to be loved.” Natalie goes so far as to say that you should not even attempt to discern your vocation if you are not already convinced that you are valuable and deserving of love.
· Your vocation, when you have found it, will bring the reciprocity of love which is the distinctive quality of the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.
· Don’t settle for less. God wants communion for you. You will do more in communion than you will ever do alone.
· God himself is a community, a Trinity of Persons.
3. Ideally, your mission in life will come out of your vocational community of love.
· When a Catholic man and a Catholic woman meet and fall in love, it is likely that their primary mission in life is to marry and “accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church.” (Marriage Rite of the Catholic Church) Likewise, a religious sister of my acquaintance says finding the religious order to which God is calling you to serve him is an experience like “falling in love.”
· The love comes first. The mission comes out of the love.
· Many people begin their search for their vocations by considering their talents and what they like to do. Natalie discourages this practice. Her advice: “Go where the love and personal growth in Christ is and let the Lord reveal the fruit in time.”
· The use of your talents is God’s business. He knows better how to use them. As evidence for this reality, Natalie points to the life of Pope St. John Paul the Great. Karol Wojtyla began life as an actor and playwright but left these pursuits behind when he followed his heart into the priesthood. God did not neglect Karol’s talents. On the contrary, the world became his stage!
4. Your career is not your vocation.
· This one needs repeating: Your career is not your vocation!
· According to Natalie, vocation is the “the ultimate life-giving experience for us as Christians.”
· It is therefore “a supernatural phenomenon that cannot possibly be self-generated.”
· A career is something you choose and pursue from your own initiative.
· Teaching or nursing are missions which may spring from your vocation, but they are not vocations in themselves.
· In other words, your career should not be your first consideration in life. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven, and all these things will be added unto you.” (Mt 6:33)
5. In your search for the Promised Land of your vocation, use the resources available to you.
· If you are serious about finding your vocation, then you are serious about drawing closer to Christ, the source of abundant life.
· You don’t have to wait until you find your vocation to begin doing this. Begin this very moment by using the resources available to you.
· Natalie is a convert to the Catholic Church (she is a former Pentecostal Christian), and she does not take her faith for granted. She describes the Catholic faith as “the ultimate formula (path, structure, conduit) for life and life abundant.”
· The sacraments are conduits of life! Use them. Go to confession and Mass. Receive the Eucharist.
· Read Scripture.
· Visit religious orders of interest to you. Attend diocesan and parish events where there is the possibility of meeting others “of the same fabric as you.”
· Use any and every opportunity that God sends your way.
· It is when you are already making good use of these resources that God will find a way of drawing you closer still to him by means of your vocation.
6. Get to know yourself and identify your good desires.
· When you discover your vocation, the effect of it is to make you “more of you essentially.”
· In your journey to the Promised Land of your vocation it is therefore important to really know who you are deep down inside.
· By following “Step 5” (using the resources available to you), you will begin to know yourself better, by knowing “Jesus within you.”
· This process of discovering your interior self will help you discover the deep desires of your heart. Natalie encourages you to be brutally honest with yourself in identifying these desires. You are not looking for what you “should” want, but what you do want.
· God is not cruel. He doesn’t plant desires in your heart so that he can dash them. He plants desires in your heart so that he can fulfill them.
· There is a way to distinguish good desires (the ones God has planted) from bad desires. Jesus said we can distinguish good prophets from false ones by their fruits. Likewise, you can distinguish good desires from bad ones by their fruits.
· If pursuing one of your desires produces in you the fruits of the Holy Spirit, making you joyful, peaceful, kind, chaste, faithful, patient, etc., then you can have no doubt that this desire was planted in your heart by God and that he means to fulfill it.
7. Do not lose faith like the Israelites did in the desert.
· While you are doing all of the above, leave the rest (questions such as “When will I find my vocation?” and “With whom shall I share it?”) to God.
· The rest is not your business.
· You are not accidental to God’s purposes. “The creator of the universe knows you so personally and so well that he has customized a calling for you as unique as your fingerprint.”
· God has in mind for each of us a vocation that is “so beyond us and so magical that we ask ourselves, like Mary, ‘How can this be?’”
· While you are waiting to discover your vocation, do not lose faith as the Israelites did at Massah and Meribah, asking, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
· Trust God and believe that he will bring you through the desert to the Promised Land of your vocation.
Contact the Vocations Office at vocationsvancouver.ca.