It was no surprise to anyone when Jane graduated first in her class at medical school. It was also no surprise when, after a stellar residency at the teaching hospital, she was offered a position there.
It was a surprise, however, when she decided to give it all up to pursue her dream of working in a clinic for the poor in sub-Saharan Africa.
For weeks, her friends and professors tried to talk her out of it. They tried to convince her that there would be plenty of time for her to go on missionary trips after she had established her own practice. However, Jane was adamant. Though her friends and family could not understand why she was willing to give up so much, she tried explaining to them that she felt called to such work. In her heart, she had always known that she had been set apart by God to use her knowledge and her skills to help the poor. It took her a while, but she finally found the courage to answer that call.
When we hear the word “calling” or “vocation” we tend to think of it primarily in terms of religious life. Nuns have a calling. Priests have a calling. Deacons and monks have a calling. However, vocations are not limited to just those called to religious life and service. Rather, everyone has a vocation. Each one of us is called to a certain lifestyle and a certain life’s work that only we can accomplish. Sometimes it manifests itself in dramatic fashion as Jane’s calling to work with the poor in Africa. However, most often it manifests itself in small hidden ways such as the couple who are called to adopt special needs children, the woman who is called to provide health care for the homebound, or the teenager who stands up for his classmates who are suffering from peer pressure and bullying. We can be called to perform one special work which only lasts a short time or we can be called to a path which takes up our whole lives such as marriage or religious life.
However it may manifest itself in our lives, each one of us has a calling, a special work or life’s work that only you and I can accomplish. It is our contribution in both big and small ways to God’s saving work.
Today’s readings speak to us in a beautiful way about the meaning of vocation in the Christian life.
The second reading is taken from the beginning of Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In his greeting to that church, he states that they are “called to be holy.” While some people are called to different work and different lifestyles in pursuing the Christian life, all followers of Christ are called to be holy. The Second Vatican Council called this principle, “the universal call to holiness.” Our beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis, echoed this when he recently said, “To be saints is not a privilege for the few, but a vocation for everyone.”
How do we become holy? By letting God’s love shine through us in everything we do. Whatever work or lifestyle we are called to, we must do all things in love. God is love and His holiness is most clearly manifested in those who show His love to others.
It is not always easy, especially when we have been laboring under harsh conditions or dealing with difficult people. Stress and anxiety can distract us from being kind and gentle to others. Therefore, an essential element of holiness is prayer. God’s love takes root and grows in our hearts when we put ourselves in His presence, when we confess our failings and when we seek wisdom by reading His word in Sacred Scripture. Time in prayer both alone and with others is crucial to helping us discover our vocation and nurture it.
This call to be holy is not only a way for us to feel good about ourselves and build up our self-esteem. The gifts of holiness and love are not to be kept to ourselves. Rather, they are meant to be given away. A life of holiness and love naturally leads to the second element of vocation, giving witness.
In the first reading, God tells the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah that He has chosen them “to be a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth”. In the second reading, Saint Paul talks about his calling to be an apostle, that is, one sent out by Christ to be a witness to His resurrection. And in the gospel, Saint John the Baptist describes his vocation as a witness to Jesus, “the Lamb of God.”
Every vocation, then, involves bearing witness to the love and power of God. No one who has experienced the presence of God has a right to keep it himself or herself. Rather, no matter what our state in life may be, we are all called to give witness in both our words and actions to Jesus, the Son of God. As a community of disciples, we cannot wait for people to come to us. Rather we go out and announce the good news to everyone we meet. As Pope Francis described it in his recent work, The Joy of the Gospel,: “The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who...boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast.” Those who are filled with the love of God are like the psalmist who has to proclaim it to others: “I announced your justice in the vast assembly; I did not restrain my lips, as you, O Lord, know.”
To sum it all up, each of us has a calling, a unique vocation. Though we live that calling out in different works and lifestyles, we are all called to pursue holiness and to give witness to the God of faithful love. Like Saint John the Baptist, at the heart of our vocation is the need to point out to others Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away our sins and the Son of God who comes to establish the Kingdom of Heaven. It all comes from God through our baptism and flows back to Him through our lives of humble service and witness to His goodness. It flows from Him because only in the power of the Holy Spirit is it possible to give witness not only with our words but in our everyday choices. If we can find the courage to live for God alone, then it will be no surprise to anyone that it is Jesus at work in us reaching out to continue His work in our world.