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The word "vocation" means "calling. Some people tend to think of it only in terms of a call to the ministerial priesthood or the religious life. This is not correct, for we do appropriately speak of "the lay vocation." In fact, the lay vocation is the proper, the best vocation for most persons. It is not a second-class vocation.

Some people also tend to think of "vocation" in excessively dramatic ways. St. Paul indeed did experience a soul-searching inward illumination on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 0.1-9). Miraculous events can accompany vocation. Ordinarily they do not.

Every Christian has a vocation. That is to say, every Christian is called by God to some particular way of carrying out the one great service or ministry of love. All believers are called by the Lord to "abide in My love" (John 15.10). Moreover, this vocation is usually made known through the actual circumstances in which one finds oneself.

"There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord" (1 Cor. 12.4-5). The one God calls us to a thousand different tasks and lifestyles. In some senses, one vocation may have an excellence beyond that of another, a call to greater service and sacrifice (cf. Acts 9.15). But concretely the call which God gives to each person is the best for that p erson. No one's vocation is an inferior version of any other. Every vocation can be a road to the height of holiness.


The Lay Christian Vocation

In discussing vocations, there is a danger of giving disproportionate emphasis to those vocations which are explicitly and professionally religious, that is, vocations to the priesthood and religious life. The Christian called to serve God in the world also has a vocation of surpassing importance.

The law of love, which is the Lord's great commandment, is address to all, and invites all to share the liberating and saving tasks of making the kingdom of God flourish on earth. "On all Christians therefore is laid the splendid burden of working to make the divine message of salvation accepted by all men throughout the world" (AA 3) ("AA" here is an abbreviation of Apostolicam Actuositatem: Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, one of the Second Vatican Council documents).

The Church wishes to stress that each member of the laity has an important vocation in the Church. "The voice of the Lord resounds in the depts. Of each of Christ's followers, who through faith and the sacraments of Christian initiation is made like to Jesus Christ, is incorporated as a living member in the Church and has an active part in her mission of salvation" (Pope John Paul II, Post-Synod Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles Laici (December 30, 1988), n. 3).


Laity and the Temporal Order

Christ's redemptive work is of itself aimed at our eternal salvation; but it involves the renewal of the whole temporal order. Laity are called to participate in both the spiritual and temporal aspects of the apostolate; but they "must take on the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation" (AA 7).

The world made by God is loved by Him. Every element of the temporal order ought to be affected by Christ's saving work. The laity, moved by faith and love, should use their own particular skills and act on their own responsibility to assist in healing a world marred in many ways by sin, and to establish a temporal order based on justice and love.

To care for the temporal order is to care for the goods of life and of the family, for culture and business, for the arts and professions, for political and social institutions (cf. AA 8). "This order requires constant improvement. It must be founded on truth, built on justice, and animated by love" (GS 26) ("GS" here is an abbreviation of Gaudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, a Second Vatican Council document). Immediate concern for the temporal order is the proper concern of laymen, because it requires all the knowledge, skills, and insight they acquire and exercise in their varied secular tasks. The temporal order must be renewed with reverence by those who respect its own "stability, goodness, proper laws, and order" (GS 36), while bringing it into conformity with the higher principles of Christian life (cf. AA 7).

Every Christian, then, according to the circumstances of his or her particular situation, has a duty to try to shape the world in accord with justice and charity. Christians must accept the fact that sometimes this may make them extremely unpopular in some quarters. Jesus was aware that not everyone would react favorably to His teaching or to His followers, "if the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you" (John 15.18).

With these things in mind, Christians should be prepared to weigh very carefully their vocational choices. Many careers offer promise of high income and prestige, but in some circumstances one cannot pursue them or succeed well in them without participating in dishonesty, or cruelty, or exploitation of the weak, or assertion of false witness. To seek success at such a cost is to abandon Christ. "For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?" (Matt. 16.26).


Laity and the Apostolate

Baptism gives each believer an apostolic vocation. "God therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28.19-20). The apostolate of "spreading the kingdom of Christ everywhere for the glory of God the Father" is not for the clergy alone, but is acarried on by the Church "through all its members" (AA 2). All believers must proclaim their faith by the way they live. But the lay apostolate "does not consist only in the witness of one's way of life; a true apostle looks for opportunities to announce Christ by words addressed either to non-believers with a view to leading them to faith, or to believers with a view to instructing and strengthening them, and motivating them to a more fervent faith" (AA 6).

The task of proclaiming and spreading the faith is not always easy. Living in an age of aggressive secularism, we may be tempted at times to view it as an impossible task. The Lord, however, never promised it would be easy. He warned us that not everyone would have ears to hear the good news (cf. Mark 4.9).

On the other hand, the need for God is still as widely felt in the world as ever it was. The great difference is that in our time this need for God is often not recognized for what it is. An enormous amount of "idealism" - that is, hunger for the Perfect - coexists today with indifference and even hostility toward religion, especially institutional religion. Duty to God and compassion for our neighbor require that here also we feed the spiritually hungry. The need is there: "Many people, including many of the young, have lost sight of the meaning of their lives and are anxiously searching for the contemplative dimension of their being" (Pope Paul VI, Evangelica Testificatio: Apostolic Exhortation (June 29,m 1971, n. 45).

[The above is an excerpt from the book: The Teaching of Christ - A Catholic Catechism for Adults edited by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl (Archbishop of Washington), Fr. Ronald Lawler, O.F.M. Cap., Fr. Thomas Comerford Lawler, and Fr. Kris D. Stubna, Fifth edition 2005, pp. 316-319, published by Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 200 Noll Plaza, Huntingdon, Indiana 46750. We thank the authors for granting permission to Mary's Touch By Mail to reproduce the above excerpt.]

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