by Kenneth Tham
“We are short of priests, please pray for more vocations” is a common petition by the Church. This is a possible explanation why many young men are afraid of the word ‘vocation’. Vocation is derived from the Latin word vocare which means ‘to call’ and it is mostly used to imply a call to the ordained priesthood. However, the Church also teaches that as Christians, we are all called to be holy (Lumen Gentium, chapter V). We are called to love because “Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (CCC 2392). Therefore, our universal, primary vocation as Christians is to love as Christ loved. Only then can we discern our secondary vocation.
Discerning our secondary vocation, the one vocation that God has made us specifically for, is a process that can only begin after we have accepted our primary vocation to love. All secondary vocations are rooted in service. Married life is service to our spouse and children while priesthood is service to the people of God, which is why the sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony are the called sacraments of service (CCC 1534). Consecrated religious (nuns and brothers) are called to serve the Church based on their various charisms. Even blessed singlehood is a vocation because singles can serve God in ways that the married, ordained, and religious are unable to; they are called serve the Church with their time and generosity. Of course, all service would stem from the love for God and His Church.
If all the states of life (single, married, consecrated, ordained) are vocations, how then does one discern their vocation?
Here are some tips towards discerning our secondary vocations.
As with any decision, we ought to offer up our vocation discernment to God in prayer. Of course, many a times we may not receive concrete signs from God what he desires for us. Even when we do receive the signs, we doubt or we try to downplay it and say that it is our imagination. One way to listen to God’s promptings is to read and listen to the Word of God, for “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
In my own discernment of what God desires for me, I find listening to the Word of God one of the best ways to hear God’s voice, especially in the Mass, where the Word comes alive. Once I was praying and discerning if I should just give up on a pursuit in a relationship. It was so apt that the Mass readings for the day was on perseverance, and the priest’s homily spoke straight to my heart, as if God was speaking directly to me and answering all the questions I had. The feeling that came over me was one of peace, comfort, and a sense of joy even amid confusion.
Then again, being human, we find ourselves doubting and over rationalizing our experiences. We begin to think that it was a coincidence and we convince ourselves that it was all our imagination. Therefore, we cannot discern alone. We need someone to journey with us, to help us make sense of what we experience, and perhaps to convince us that it really is God who speaks to us.
2. Find a Spiritual Director
The real Spiritual Director (SD) is God himself, for he touches our human hearts directly. The human spiritual director is someone who assists the person in responding to God’s invitation into a deeper relationship (Barry & Connolly, 2009). Barry & Connolly (2009) describe in their book,
So how does one find a SD? In all things, there must be prayer. In our prayer, we ask God to send us a SD whom he wants us to journey with. Of course, we cannot simply just pray and not do anything, we must do some work too. Since a SD is someone who journeys with us, we should know the person, be comfortable enough to share deeply, and the person must be willing to journey with us. We can only know this if we make the effort to approach someone whom we feel that God is indicating to us, to talk to the person and perhaps find out if we can establish a rapport with the person. Do note that the person has no obligation to say yes, so if the response is a no, take heart because ultimately God is the one who leads us and a suitable SD will come along eventually.
Pope Francis has said that spiritual direction “is not a charism exclusive to priests. It’s a charism of the laity (Catholic News Service, 18 May 2015). Thus, an SD need not necessarily be a priest or religious, but it should be someone with some level of formation. This is at your discretion to do some research on your own and take it all to prayer. At the end of it, everything boils down to who God leads you to, and not so much on the qualifications or repute of the SD. In the journey with your SD, God will draw you closer to himself because you will find out more about yourself.
My SD was Fr Jovita. It seemed so fitting that upon enrolling in the National University of Singapore (NUS), Fr Jo was appointed chaplain of NUS. I had been looking for an SD for quite some time, after having made the decision to discern more seriously my secondary vocation. At that time, I felt a strong prompting to get to know Fr Jo more. Over time, we could talk about anything freely and without inhibition. It was then that I felt strongly that I should ask him if he was willing to be my SD, to which he replied in the affirmative. I met up with him for SD sessions once a month during the school term, and at least once during the school vacation. The fruits of the relationship were for me to truly live my calling as a student (at that time) and not try to be someone I was not, and to allow God to lead me because I was tight-fisted with my life and wanted everything under my control. Now, I can say that I have learnt to let go more and to be comfortable in my own skin because God made me for a unique purpose which he will reveal to me in time.
3. Be not afraid
We all face fear. The fear of failure, the fear of rejection, the fear of inadequacy, and the list is endless.
Fear is not from God because God is love, and perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). Prophet Isaiah reminds us “do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10). In his inaugural homily as pope, St John Paul II constantly reminded the faithful “do not be afraid”. This does not mean that we become immune to fear, but rather, fear would have no hold over us.
Indeed, it is humanly impossible for us to achieve such things. It is only by faith can we move mountains for Jesus tells us that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, nothing will be impossible (Matthew 17:20). Therefore, for us to move forward in our discernment journeys, we must first begin with a little faith. Faith is what keeps us going because it reminds us that God has a plan for us even though we do not understand or see where we are headed. Yes, it can get annoying when things do not seem to work out and it is tempting to just give up. However, all things happen for a reason and God wills it so.
Looking back at my own life, and at my lowest points, all that I had was my faith in God which continues to sustain me to this day. Have I found my secondary vocation? No. Do I still believe that he has a plan for me? Yes.
If we only pick and choose what we feel comfortable with, we may grow, but probably not as much as if we were to take that leap of faith and jump into the arms of God. All that we go through, our experiences, our relationships, are all part of our formative process as we grow in holiness. God works in ways that we can hardly comprehend, but only if we let Him.
Barry, W. A., & Connolly, W. J., 2009. The Practice of Spiritual Direction.