The Catholic Moment: More than four
Thursday, January 14, 2010
By Jeanne Hunt
When I was a child, the good Sisters taught me that there are four states of life or vocations: the priesthood, the consecrated religious life, marriage and the single state. I believed that they were presented in that order because priesthood was the best vocation and it was downhill from there.
Being a girl and an overachiever, I was bound and determined to be a nun. It was my best shot at making an impression on God as to my desire to “know, love and serve Him in this world.” However, I am now older and wiser, and the quartet of vocations has fallen far short of what actually seems to be happening out here in the kingdom of God.
I should have known that God was not into neat packages. My experience of the Divine One is that He often allows for serendipitous grace. God is not bound by our clear-cut version of life. God sees that each soul is unique and may not easily fit in a one-size-fits-all category, especially when in comes to a vocation. Even when we choose a path for our life, it is rare that the journey will follow a predictable path.
Within the four choices, we can assume that each priest, each Sister, each wife, husband and single person will emerge into a human being like no other that has ever been created. Add to this the possibility that most people will experience more than one of the four choices in their lifetime makes life complicated and messy. However, it simply isn’t complicated or messy to God, who isn’t interested in our clear-cut, generic version of vocation. God is a creative genius who loves to write each chapter of our life with flare and unimaginable creativity. I see now that there are as many vocations as there are people, and each is holy.
The problem lies in our stubborn desire to stick to our plan. Someone once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” When we are willing to surrender to God’s version of our life, our full potential as a graced human being begins. When we can see the possibilities beyond our job description and embrace new gifts, new directions, new ways of being . . . then our vocation truly comes into its own. When a wife becomes a widow, she can sit stagnant in her memories or enter the single state with expectation. When a priest supports a needy family with prayer and presence, he becomes a shepherd in a new and sacred way. When a single man becomes a lay missionary in far-away Africa, he knows the religious life firsthand.
This concept of vocation is exciting and challenging because God loves to push us to the limit. Each decade of our life brings wonder. We must never give up on this marvelous God who took old Pope John XXIII and called him to start the Vatican Council in his 80s, got Grandma Moses painting in her 90s and George Burns telling jokes again after his beloved Gracie died.
At best, our holy vocation is a series of calls. It seems that God lets one life experience build on the next. So, we must not presume that we cannot enter a new vocation because of age or limitation. Sisters of St. Joseph Janice Brewi and Anne Brennan, founders of Mid-Life Directions, in their work on midlife and long life, encourage us to remain open to our dreams. They encourage us to allow life changes to become touchstones of grace. When we hope in the divine potter to fashion us into a new image, the potter is always up to the challenge.
So where is God with you? How many different roles have you taken on in service to the kingdom and the Gospel? If you are young, be prepared for an exciting adventure of untold direction. If you are old, do not sit down; be ready for the next call.
Hunt is the catechetical and evangelization advisor for St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications.