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The meaning of vocation for baptised Christians
The issue of vocations can be discussed in many ways but I like to place it in the context of the discipleship of the Lord because it is through this discipleship that we can enter into the mystery of the life-saving death and Resurrection of Jesus.
The call that comes to us at the moment of Baptism is unique. Every person who is baptised is called upon to be a missionary and active in the work of the Church and in faithfulness to the Lord.
This special relationship created at the moment of Baptism shows we are willing to allow the imprint of the Paschal Mystery on our lives.
In the last 100 years, part of the Church's renewal has been the rediscovery of its missionary dimension which comes from this moment of Baptism which is a call to worship, service and witness.
As our life as a disciple of Christ unfolds, the Lord begins to engage us in a new dynamic and asks us to reflect on our lives and whether our vocation is to be lived out through matrimony, single life, religious life or the priesthood.
Each Christian is asked to respond to the Lord, to allow that relationship from the moment of Baptism to be further specified in terms of a relationship to the Church and to the Lord.
That further level of the call is one that comes to people in the midst of their freedom. The Church has always been very careful to make sure that people who are to enter religious life or the priesthood do so as an act of free choice. But this freedom applies equally to the other choices people might make.
I have known people who were warned and knew at the time they were getting married that they were making a mistake. But they were not free to say "I cannot do this". A whole range of factors in their lives had led them down that path and they felt they couldn't turn back.
A second point is that this specification of baptismal consecration also takes place as an act of faith and for us the act of faith is never a matter of just God and oneself. While there is a dimension of our faith that is intensely personal, it is never that alone. Vocation is always something that takes place against the background of the faith community.
The faith community has some say in how a vocation is to be lived out. In the case of the priesthood and religious life, the community makes a definitive judgment on whether a person is really right and well-prepared to enter into that particular way of life.
It is equally important that we are as serious about the vocation to marriage. There is a lot more work to do to reflect on how we as a community prepare people to take up this vocation. The Church, in all its different ways, has to put marriage and family life at the very centre of its consciousness.
As we move through the 21st Century, the pathway for renewal in the Church will be centred on a major renewal in the Sacrament of Matrimony and the capacity of people in that sacrament to find holiness and make a big contribution to the development of the Kingdom.
We must, therefore, work hard to make the local church more family-centred and a source of support for couples and families in their everyday lives.
The values we look for in individuals who are about to become spouses are exactly the same for those considering the priesthood and religious life.
People who enter into celibate life should look at the values of a good husband or wife, father or mother. The same values apply despite being expressed in different ways because the same capacity for love has to be revealed in every vocation within the life of the Church.
Finally, when people consider the issue of a vocation and their response to the Lord, they need to appreciate that it is not a matter of waiting until everything is "organised". We all must respond to the Lord out of the middle of the confusion and the different elements in our lives. There is no need to be "perfect" before taking up a vocation and there is no "perfect time" to do so. The issue of sin and human imperfection remains.
What begins as the response is something that then unfolds as time goes on and requires renewal as people live out their lives. But whatever difficulties and struggles there are at the moment of initial response will still be there until the end of life - although obviously one hopes there will be growth and development.
The same fault lines in my life today existed the day I went to the seminary. The issues I had to deal with then - matters for reflection and asking for forgiveness - are still there. The same capacity for making mistakes is there.
We need to emphasise that the dynamic of all vocations begins at the moment of Baptism and that really charges all of us to take up our responsibility for the sake of the Kingdom and our commitment to the life of the Church.
And as we enter adulthood, we need to listen to the Lord and see what it is he is asking of us.
This reflection has been edited from a talk given by Adelaide's Archbishop Philip Wilson at the Thomas More Autumn School, Adelaide, on 12 April 2003.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 16 No 6 (July 2003), p. 20
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