I never really took serious thought about vocations not until my second year in the seminary when we were asked to campaign for priestly vocations in the parishes. I did some serious thinking on the matter not because I have to make a choice for I was then too young to consider one, but because it was to be my first ever speaking engagement. I was assigned to the faraway town of Ajuy with a major seminarian and I was tasked with relating to grade six pupils and fourth year high school students our life in the seminary, to give it so to say a human face (which consists in merely elaborating and collaborating with one’s experience the “eat much, play much, study much, work much and pray a little but well” way of life we were taught when we entered the seminary). And my partner who was more experienced, was assigned to talk about the different vocations into which God calls us.
From the initial reaction of our audience I presume we must have given a wonderful talk on vocations because out of the thirty six boys who were there in the room, thirty two signified that they were interested in becoming priests or feel called by God to become one. As an afterthought, however, knowing that Ajuy is a parish known for its diversity of religious sects, we asked who among the thirty two who signified were Catholics. The show of hands revealed indeed the fruition and effectiveness of our talk on vocations. There were only two Catholics among the applicants.
What is a vocation?
Vocation comes from the Latin word vocare which means to call. From its literal meaning we can simply say that vocation is a call from God to a particular lifestyle. It is not a profession which defines merely our work like, for example a doctor, an engineer, a nurse, a farmer or simply just any other laborer. It is rather a way of life which one chooses, or more realistically, which one responds to in faith, believing that God called us to it and equipped us with charisms needed for that particular lifestyle.
In a vocation it must be noted that it is God who chooses and it is God who calls, for we believe that God, before we were even formed in our mother’s womb, has a special plan for all of us. We are created in love and with purpose and not just out of His whim, and neither is it randomly nor was it done accidentally. All of us have a special part in the building up of the world into the Kingdom of God - a part which makes our diverse vocations and roles important.
The Call to Love
Our first vocation is the call of our baptism - the call to love God and to love our fellowmen. It is the first and the most basic of all vocations, for it initiates us to the life of our Lord whose life has been a reaching out in love. And since it is the initial vocation our deficiency in responding to this first call and without a certain growth to maturity in our loving, the second call, which is a call to a particular lifestyle would be difficult. The call to love is fundamental for it is the source from which all other vocation flows, are given particular expression and is sustained.
In this regard I prefer to call vocations as “roles of service”. The calling for a particular lifestyle is basically a mission, a sending forth, a call to respond in love. And unlike a particular profession which could be used solely for its own ends, a vocation is called upon not primarily to benefit the individual but to build up the community in the various forms of service and in the divergent expressions of loving. Thus to become a religious, or choosing to respond to witness to the love Christ has for his Church in Matrimony, or remaining single for the sake of Christ, are ways wherein the first and original call to love is expressed more specifically. But without a certain maturity in loving, our second and specific vocation would degenerate. And so our religious vocation would become mere status symbol, marriage could fall off into mere companionship without passion, parenthood would just become an unavoidable outcome of the former, and remaining single would just become a more convenient and practical form of living in the 90’s.
I remember specifically the term used by my partner on that fateful vocation month fifteen years ago in Ajuy, to define what he considers our total response to God’s call. He said vocation could only be responded to when we are open. Vocation is “bukas iyon” - open to the love God pours out to each one of us, open to respond lovingly to that love, open to the call to serve, open to the call to love.