The Context of a Calling
Mother Teresa was finally canonized last month. Glory to Jesus Christ for his saints! She is truly one of the most fascinating characters to have walked this planet in the last hundred years. I have always been intrigued by her "vocation within a vocation"; not only was she called to be a religious sister, she was called to serve the poorest of the poor within the context of a new order that didn't exist until she founded it. And a whole lot of lives have changed because of that.
Friends of mine are getting married in a couple weeks, and I can't help but see how they are changing each and the community around them. Their love for each other spills over.
With these thoughts mulling around, the central theme seems to be "vocation." A vocation, from the LatinVoco, Vocare, Vocavi, Vocatum, meaning "to call, summon", is the blanket term Catholics usually throw on the three basic states of life. There is the ordained priesthood (for baptized Catholic men only), religious life (monks are boys, sisters/ nuns are girls), and marriage (one of each). But only using the word "vocation" to describe which category you fall into is denying the essence of what it means to be called.
Mother Teresa wasn't called to "religious life". She was called first to the Sisters of Loretto so that she might be prepared for a deeper calling of love. God called to her to a place where she could grow in deeper love of him so that he could prepare her heart to love the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. She was his instrument of love to reach these who were deemed unlovable. The Missionaries of Charity are the result of her love for God and neighbor. This order that she founded is the context by which her vocation, and vocation of all who have joined her, is lived out.
One of the best examples of a vocation is John Muir, the naturalist and explorer whose famous line "The mountains are calling and I must go" litters your Pinterest feed every other time you check you the DIY section. But do you know where it comes from? Do you know how the line ends? It comes from a letter to his sister , Sarah, and the full sentence is " The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly. " (emphasis mine.)
Now, before you accuse me or John of being pantheistic hippies, go to the mountains where you can hear the gentle breeze and ask yourself if nature does not in fact summon us out of ourselves. The mountains themselves might not have a voice, but they are the words by which the Creator calls. Muir heard the call of his Creator through the mouth-piece of nature, and responded to the summons. In the middle of the industrial revolution, here was a man going out to the wild places and proclaiming them priceless to a country obsessed with material wealth. Here was a man who studied what he loved to learn more about it so he could share the unhidden secrets of the wild places. Here was a man who walked outside and found there a place called home for the human soul. It was his mission to bring people back to this home in the wilderness, and thus back home to themselves.
Mother Teresa and John Muir were summoned by the same Voice for different aspects of the same mission. We aren't called to do things. We are called to love people. We are called to love specific persons, within the context of an exclusive relationship. A simple, quiet, religious sister reminded those who had been thrown away in an urban squalor that they were loved by Someone. A wild mountaineering man reminded those who were throwing themselves away in urban luxury that they were loved by Someone. Theirs was the mission of human care, restoring dignity to those who had been stripped of it, and reminding lost persons of the amazing Beauty waiting to be beheld. And they understood their specific roles, their specific vocations, in light of the specific way they knew love.
We often forget that is how we discover our vocations. God didn't pull a piece of paper out of a hat and say, "Oh, this one's a priest, and that guy will be a monk!" or "She is gonna be single for fifty years and then get married!" or "This gal is going to the convent straight out of high school!" No. This isn't like a bad church raffle. It's a Divine Plan. And not just a cold, calculated accounting scheme to make sure the numbers in each column balance out. It is a plan born out of a particular, unique love for every particular, unique person.
*Spoiler alert* God doesn't love everybody the same way. I know, I know. You're shocked and scandalized. But are you, really? Of course He doesn't love every single person the exact same way. That's like trying to do one-size-fits-all clothing. It doesn't work. God elects to love each of us differently for the sake of calling us into a distinct vocation for the completion of a personalized mission. The more we understand how God loves us, the more we can live out our vocation for the sake of mission. (There's a throwback Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast on this.)
Maybe people have been infected with the "I have to prove to everyone that I am not a waste of space so I'll use social media and post only the totally awesome parts of my life showing me doing cool stuff and achieving the crap out of everything" mentality because we have forgotten why we're here to begin with. We are to love and be loved, and not in a vague, mysterious way but in a reserved, certain manner that no one else can replicate. Our loving Father knows what He is about.