Our culture is rather divided on the idea of vocation. In once sense, the word has been made meaningless by a unholy mixture of the idea that we are all called to something, and functional Deism that assumes that no one is called to anything. It has been said: “If you talk to God, you are praying, if God talks back, you are schizophrenic.” We live in a world where “vocation” often means nothing other than “occupation.”
This secular culture is challenged by a subset of the religious culture that very often claims vocation with certainty. There are people who say: “God told me to”, with the apparent goal of borrowing authority from God. This counter-cultural group, unfortunately can become a parody of itself when prophetic messages, spoken with the assurance that it comes from the mouth of God, proves to be wishful thinking. We live in a culture that tends to these extremes.
This creates a situation where society no longer takes the concept of vocation seriously. People either are too skeptical of the concept to entertain the idea of a calling, or they have overused the term to the point of using God to increase their own authority. We are in a culture where the concept of vocation is abused, or ignored, as opposed to examined and discerned.
The idea of vocation is further muddied by ideas such as “real Job”, which imply that the work some people do is invalid, even if it is necessary and fulfilling to that person, and the concept of hobbies, or doing that thing that you are passionate about only within the context of leisure time. The idea of vocation is complicated by a world that makes value judgments against anyone who might follow it one.
We have produced a culture of prejudice, snap judgments, and a need to be “successful”. The idea of vocation is one of slow discernment, accepting a diversity of calls and gifts, and a recognition that obedience is more important than success. The idea of vocation is that there is a God who’s values and purposes transcend what we see or understand. Vocation is counter-cultural because it means that we are not equipped to create our Utopia without God.
Friends, Catholics, and others are in a place to redeem the idea of vocation. As we stand against the extremes of culture, and take vocation and discernment seriously, we can help others recognize that God is active in our lives, and is something more than a tool to help people get their way or to win an argument. Our wide culture struggles between embedded theologies that jump to one extreme or the other. How could we address this issue, and give vocation the attention it deserves, while addressing the complex nature of rightly hearing God?