Sr. Mary Hennessey was the co-ordinator of Field Placements at Harvard Divinity School when my husband and I were studying there. She was well known for saying, “A hobby is something you love to do but the world does not particularly need. A job is something the world needs but which you have no particular affection for doing. A vocation is something you love to do and the world needs.”
On April 25 each year, the Church celebrates World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The word vocation comes from the Latin word meaning “calling.” Each created person has such a calling and for those who are baptised, this is also a religious calling. By our Baptism we are all anointed priest, prophet and king (aka leader). Some are called to do this as laity engaged in secular professions, some as laity working as lay ecclesial ministers or vowed religious and some as ordained clergy. In all circumstances, however, God calls us to actively bring our faith into the world. This calling is not, as Pope Francis says, “an intrusion of God on our freedom; it is not a “cage” or a burden to be borne.” Rather, he argues, it is “the loving initiative whereby God encounters us and invites us to be part of a great undertaking.” Or in the words of Frederick Buechner, “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” Following God’s specific call will bring us happiness because it will mean we are being who we were created to be.
Each year on World Day of Prayer for Vocations, the Pope writes a message to the faithful. This year he wrote about St. Joseph as a witness to us of how to find and live our vocation. He sees Joseph’s response as characterised by three realities: dream, service and fidelity.
God communicated to Joseph in dreams and Joseph responded. These dreams led him “into experience he would never have imagined.” He opened himself up to the plans of God not in passive resignation but in active acceptance. We can learn from Joseph to listen to our dreams, to take note of what we are inclined to fall in love with, to pay attention to what tugs at our heart – for this is how God tells us who we are and how we ought to live.
Secondly, Joseph responded to God in service. His service was not exceptional like some saints who write magnificent treatises of theology or initiate fundamental change in the world or church. Rather, Joseph married, found a safe place for Jesus to be born (well, as safe as possible!), protected his family from danger and supported his family as a carpenter.
Finally, Joseph’s life is characterized by fidelity. In “quiet perseverance that made no news in his own time,” Joseph laboured daily, in love. “Vocation,” Pope Francis reminds us, “matures only through daily fidelity.”
Living our vocation brings us joy. Following God’s (and our) dreams, serving God and our brothers and sisters in fidelity brings us contentment. On April 25, let us pray that each Christian will find and follow their calling from God, that those who are called to serve God in ecclesial ministry, will courageously respond, that the whole Church will recognize, call forth and promote vocations.
I encourage you to read the full text of Pope Francis’ message here.
Christine Way Skinner is a lay minister and author. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Theology degree from St. Francis Xavier University and a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. Christine loves trying to find inclusive, compelling and creative ways to pass on the church’s 2000 year old traditions. She also loves art, playing music, reading, gardening and playing board games with her children. Christine’s numerous publications can be found and purchased here.