Every Catholic should understand what a vocation is, the different types of vocations, and how to discern his or her vocation. Here are the basics!
First, “vocation” means “a calling”. In the Christian sense, it’s what God is calling a person to do with his or her life.
Everybody is created for the same basic purpose. God calls every person to be united to Himself, and to live a holy life of joyful union with Him, both on Earth and in Heaven. This is everyone’s primary vocation, union with God, also known as holiness.
Each person also has a secondary call, and this is what we usually mean when we talk about a vocation. It is a call from God to do something specific with one’s life in a particular way. The Church recognizes four distinct types of vocation:
- Marriage – the natural vocation, built into each person. Marriage is a sign of God’s love in the world, and spouses are called to help each other and their children to get to heaven. Marriage can’t be assumed, but must be discerned, just as any other vocation. (While all are created for marriage, some are called to forego natural marriage for a supernatural vocation.)
- Sacred Single Life – some people are called to live a single life for various reasons. However, each vocation requires a commitment. A vocation to the single life isn’t just a resignation to the circumstances of life which may have prevented some other course; rather, if someone thinks he or she is called by God to be single for a specific reason, it still requires a diligent discernment and permanent commitment to the vocation.
- Consecrated Life – some are called to radically give themselves to God and to the Church through consecration. These men and women are part of a religious institution whose members commit themselves to personal sanctity, supporting each other, and being a witness to holiness for the rest of the world. Religious communities of brothers and sisters are the most common form of consecrated life.
- Holy Orders – the diaconate, the priesthood, and the episcopacy comprise the final vocation. This clerical state of life provides for the spiritual life of the Church through their sacramental and magisterial (teaching) offices.
Each vocation requires a permanent commitment to a particular state of life.
Because a vocation is given to us by God, and it is generally a calling for an entire life, it is important that vocations are considered seriously and prayerfully. This careful consideration is called “discernment”.