Speaking of vocations, people tend to think that only priests, men and women religious are called by God to live consecrated life and do apostolic work by praying, doing works of charity and service and preaching the Gospel of salvation.
In fact, each of the faithful receives a vocation from the Most High. According to Saint Paul, in the Church there are different vocations, positions and roles in order to build the Mystical Body of Christ (1 Cor 12: 12-34). The Second Vatican Council in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, called on the laity to do the apostolate in the family, in society, on a national and international levels through the personal apostolate or the apostolate collective. The Council noted: “There are innumerable opportunities open to the laity for the exercise of their apostolate of evangelization and sanctification. The very testimony of their Christian life and good works done in a supernatural spirit have the power to draw men to belief and to God” (Apostolicam Actuositatem # 6).
This article is the English version of the Vietnamese article on the same subject “Sống ơn gọi mỗi ngày của mỗi người”, written by the same author, published earlier in www.mucvuvanbut.net on the same section.
In general, there are three kinds of vocation for Christian Catholics: vocation to the priesthood and religious life, vocation to the married life in the family, vocation to be single in the world. Through Baptism and Confirmation, the laity, either married or single is called to do the lay apostolic work by prayers, good examples and works of charity and service depending on their abilities, opportunities and circumstances in life.
Is there such one vocation more valuable and noble than another? There is an ancient saying in Vietnamese: “Dedicated life is happiness, romantic love is misfortune”. However, living dedicated life without fulfillment is not necessarily happy. It is important for each person to find ways to develop and fulfill one’s vocation. In a play, if a main actor performs badly, the whole play loses its value. In contrast, if a secondary actor plays well, it is also praised.
Living one’s vocation is a process that lasts the entire life. The day of priestly ordination is not a day to stop being a priest. The day of ordination is only the first step for living the priesthood. Married life is the same. Married life does not end on the wedding day or the honeymoon. Married love and life have to be nurtured and developed from day to day, year after year. In the married life, one spouse needs to discover new thoughts and feelings of the other so that one could guess the other’s intention and respond appropriately. Each situation and each new event comes to the married life, is an opportunity for the two spouses to renew the marriage covenant in thoughts, words and actions. Living unmarried in the world, as well living married as husband or wife, is living faith and bearing witness to the faith, received through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, throughout life
This process for each different vocation or in other words every vocation goes through the process of four phases or stages.
Living one’s vocation as a Christian / Catholic
In addition to live and teach children how to live as pious children, human citizens, people have to live as virtuous and mature Christians. Christian vocation does not stop at Baptism and Confirmation. Baptismal certificate is not a passport to enter the kingdom of heaven, if people do not live and practice the word of God and do not obey his commandments. Every Christian needs to continue learning about catechism and the way of the gospel as to live, renew faith, and develop relationship with God.
Most of the faithful were baptized as infants and have followed Jesus for years. In addition, the majority of the faithful have followed Jesus in the married life with husbands or wives and children and grandchildren. Thus, in the family, one is called to be a father, a mother, a husband, a wife and children. In technical spheres, there are vocations as doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors, traders, etc. The way the faithful follow Jesus ties in with the circumstances of each person: time, jobs, family and parish situations, with the means and abilities possible.
Jesus requires those who follow Him must take up his cross and follow him (Luke 14:27). Jesus also says whoever loses his life for him (and the Gospel), will save his life (Mt 16:25; Mk 8:35; Lk 9:24). That is what the martyrs did when they abandoned their lives to remain faithful to their faith in God.
Jesus does not minimize the demands of the Gospel with expectation to catch large catch of those who want to follow him. Those who follow his way today can no longer be persecuted and martyred as those once were, except under certain government institutions in power, especially those fundamentalist tyrannies that rely on religion for terrorisms and assassinations as to rule. However, even in countries where freedom of religion is guaranteed, Christians are still being persecuted in various ways. When being faithful to the gospel message, when educating children in the ways of Christianity, when the lifestyles of Catholic family are different from the ways of the world, one might be misunderstood, mocked, ridiculed and ostracized; one may also lose jobs and friends. That is the cross that Jesus' followers may have to bear.
Thus, Christians need to live Christian life in such a way that people can recognize who they are in their ways of speaking, eating, drinking, dressing, self-conducting; also their ways of looking at life and evaluating things in life. How can people know to which religion a person belongs when they see that person in the family, the neighborhood, in the mall, in the workplace, in his/her profession, in society or in any habitat. It is not just that people only know the person of a certain kind of religion since they see him / her at church.
The faithful’s response to God's call is not once. Each day requires the faithful to renew their response. The renewed response is not an isolated and separate act, but part of a whole in the process of renewal of spirit and life. The response to God's call is up to each person. Human nature is weak and sinful and inclined toward sinful tendency, but when the Lord calls someone to do something, he gives sufficient grace to fulfill the call. The Word of God is not a one way- communication, but involves a person’s response and cooperation as well. God’s grace and his power depend on one’s openness to his Word and cooperation with his will. Only when people recognize them as weak and sinful or inclining toward sinful tendency in thought, word or deed, but try to rise to the upward direction, then God’s helpful grace can be at work in their spirits and lives. When the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to Jesus and asked that she be stoned according to the Law of Moses, Jesus told them to let anyone without sin, cast a stone at her. Hearing that, they gradually withdrew in an orderly manner starting with the elders (John 8: 1-11). By withdrawing, they durst not admit them to be sinless. However, they refused to repent and amend their lives.
Living one’s vocation as a disciple of Christ
All Christians who have received the sacrament of Baptism including popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, men and women religious and lay people are called to be Disciples of Christ. A disciple is a student following a certain teacher of a certain subject such as religion, literature, science, profession, martial arts… In the Old Testament, a student following a Jewish rabbi is called a disciple. In the New Testament, those who follow Jesus’s teaching and the way of the gospel are called disciples. The word disciple is mentioned 250 (two hundred fifty) times in the New Testament. The Gospel of Luke relates: “The Lord appointed a further seventy-two and sent them in pairs before him to every town and place he intended to visit” (Lk 10: 1). Among the disciples, twelve are selected to be his apostles (Mt 12: 2-4; Mk 3: 16-19; Lk 6: 13-16, Acts 1:13).
In the Gospel, Jesus concludes: “None of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his possessions” (Lk 14:33). What does the disciple have to renounce? To renounce what he has, involves getting rid of sin and the root of sin, getting rid of obstacles on the way of discipleship. The price of discipleship is to live differently from what needs to be different. The price of discipleship is to rise above things of earth in order to look for what is above or in other words, to overcome the desire of man in order to seek the wisdom of God (Wis 9:13 -18).
In short, discipleship requires the transcendence and renouncement of restraints to wealth and even life. Not to renounce what needs to renounce cannot make discipleship. Thus, Jesus pointed out two examples to help people measure their best quality. Before constructing a tower, one has to figure out whether one has enough materials to complete it. (Lk 14: 28-30). Alternatively, before going to war, the king must also find out whether his army has enough resources to face the enemy. (Lk 14: 31-32). Here one can recall as a child, one could have made a race with kids in the neighborhood. Before a ditch, one had to decide whether to jump over or stop. At that moment, one had to measure his ability whether one could do it. If too confident, then instead of jumping over to the other side, one fell into the ditch. Failing a few times, one learned experiences and practiced repeatedly in order to be able to jump over at the end. That was also the process of practice for discipleship.
To renounce what one has, does not mean that God requires one to give up one’s own character because grace does not destroy nature of man: 'Gratia supponet humanam naturam'. There is a certain priest, not kind of extrovert person, who likes to play tricks for fun in an underhand way, especially with children and older people who also like to do tricks for fun. Once after mass, he praised a group of retired people in a high-class retirement home for singing good. That made them feel pleased. Next time he said to them: You sang better today. Some of the women giggled hi hi. Still next time, he said to them: Your singing was marvelous. At this, some women shouted “hurrah”. Thinking about something that seems to be funny - not necessarily funny to others - he could burst into a belly laugh for a long time, hurting his belly, even while praying privately. The priest thought that if he had had to get rid of those kinds of tricksy plays, it would have been very difficult for him to do so.
To follow Christ as disciples - not necessarily disciples in the lives of priests, men and women religious, but also in the lives of the laity – one has to renew the order of human values, in line with the values of the Gospel. The order of the Gospel values is as follows: supernatural, human and material.
Learning to be a disciple is a practice to differentiate and eliminate worldly things, worldly thinking and ways of doing things in the worldly ways such as frauds, worldly tendencies, petty devices, flatteries even in doing religious works. The disciple must avoid the 'Ego' that a French proverb calls: "The 'Ego' is detestable" (Le moi est haissable). In particular way, the disciple must live according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh, so that the Spirit could guide his/her thought, word and action (Gal 5:17). Thus, in words, the disciple must avoid backbiters, defamations, slanders, distortions, fabrications, false accusation. When doing religious works, the disciple must eliminate the tendency to show off, to boast and to perform.
There is a Latin saying: ' Nemo dat quid non habet ', which means no one can give what he/she does not have. Thus, to be able to teach, parents need to know so that they can teach. There are parents who are gentle and ethical, but do not know how to teach. Being a disciple, not just keeping the minimum law of Catholics is enough. To learn more about catechism, the disciple needs to read more religious books, books of spiritual guidance and to attend retreats, workshops, training sessions sponsored by parishes, dioceses or religious institutions.
To get support and encouragement on how to live a Christian life, the disciple should also participate in church associations and movements, suitable to his/her personality and way of doing religious works. In this way, the spiritual life can become rich. It must be said that there are those faithful whose understanding about religion is very limited, who do religious work in a minimum and mechanical way. Hence, their spiritual life is very poor. The disciple also needs to pray and do works of charity to enrich his/her spiritual life as the Lord says: “Make it your practice instead to store up heavenly treasure, which neither moths nor rust corrode, nor thieves break in and steal” (Mt 6:20; Lk 12:33).
In addition to prayers, the disciple should learn to do works of charity and service. There are those Catholics, who say prayers day and night, but they look gloomy, sorrowful for themselves; they still spread gossips, slanders, distortions, fabrications, false accusations, injustice, fraud and theft. Why is it so? Because they do not know how to do works of charity and service. They just think of themselves and their family. By going outside to serve the poor, the sick ... the disciple will find him/her change in living his/her faith joyfully. The disciple will also find him / her complaining and blaming less and less.
The process of discipleship does not depend on timing. It is not necessarily so. The process of discipleship can last throughout life. When the disciple stumbled, then with God's grace, he /she could rise and step forward. Using a popular expression, it is called “lost this time, we’ll try another one”.
If Shaolin monks of the martial arts - not Shaolin martial arts of the Global Free Trade – had to practice daily to fight back robbers outnumbering them dozens of times, then the disciple of Christ must also practice spiritual discipline daily as to be able to resist temptations and vices. If there are bad vices that people need lifelong to eliminate, then there are also virtues needed lifelong for people to practice.
Regarding the elimination of bad qualities, one should find out physiological and psychological reasons why one repeated them. There are temptations and bad qualities that one commits, is due to physiological or psychological reasons. For example, some people are normally at ease with other people. However, there are times when they are impatient, irritable with those around them because they do not feel good when kidneys do not work regularly. Weak kidneys work like a cheap filter, filtering multiple times, and then filtering less. Therefore, sometimes they have to go to the bathroom more often; other times, they did not have to go for a long time.
Thus, that irregularity of kidney function tends to make people irritable, hard to please. Tendency to watch bad movies might be due to loneliness or depression. Because of feeling lonely, underestimated, self-underestimated or unable to achieve what desired, that makes one see pornography. Reading articles about depression, called “trầm cảm” in Vietnamese, it sounds romantic. However, people with this disease feel sad, boring and frustrating. Thus, it should be called in Vietnamese a sad-boring-frustrating disease as to describe its symptoms. Thus, there are people afflicted with this disease depending on different levels, may want to find ways to end their lives. Children suffered with this disease also think about ending their lives. The fact is both adults and children suffered with severe depression have taken their lives.
The disciples need to find the root causes of physiological and psychological reasons as to eliminate sin and bad qualities and to practice virtues in order to be able to live as disciples. If in terms of the physiological aspect, one must abstain from certain foods and drinks in order not to jeopardize his/her health, then in terms of the spiritual, one must also abstain from certain desires and addictions in order to be able to have a healthy, peaceful and relaxing spirit. If when bathing, one must rub oneself off dirt with soap, then pour water as to be cleansed. In a similar way, in terms of the spiritual, only when one allows oneself to be given a good dressing down, meaning to accept criticism and correction, then can one have hope to correct vices.
If our time and culture are ones of broad permissiveness, then people tend not take correction seriously. Living in a culture, which extols individualism, people do not want to correct others, but let them alone. Living in a society of which culture is sensitive, or living in an era of which culture has become sensitive, then correction would hardly be acceptable. As for those who are touchy or thin-skinned, then we have to be careful when we correct them even in a constructive way, for fear that we might make their hair stand on end. If so, then on the spiritual level, there would be no spiritual growth for the offender. The offender would have no chance to become perfect as Jesus wants his disciples to be perfect (Mt 5:48).
One of the difficulties that people encounter in everyday relations is for someone to say something that others do not want to hear. If in the family, parents always defend their children since childhood, then later on in life, their children would have a tendency not to admit their wrongdoing, but always find ways to justify what they do, no matter how wrong they are. However, correction is so necessary that the faithful should not wait until he/she becomes perfect in order to do the correction. Those who are corrected must understand that the one, who does the correction also, has faults. However, when seeing others do something wrong, he/she has obligation to remind others of their wrongdoing
Living one’s vocation as a friend of Jesus
In John's Gospel, Jesus calls the disciples as friends: “I no longer speak of you as slaves, for a salve does not know what his master is about. Instead I call you friends, since I have made known to you all that I heard from my Father"(Jn 15:15).
Friends especially close friends are those who care for us and we care for them. Friends are those who stick with us “in happiness and sadness, in success and failure, in health and sickness”. Friends are those who are faithful to us and willing to help us. Friends are those whom we can trust. Good and loyal friends help each other and stay together. In a feudal and monarchic society, when a young person calls an older person friend, it can be considered insolent. However, friendship is not necessarily equal to two of similar age, social status and education. Thus, there are certain princes who have chosen peasant-girls as their brides. That is why Blaise Paschal, a French philosopher of the 17th century has this to say: “The heart has its own arguments that reason does not understand.” (Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne comprends pas).
Jesus is much greater than man is, yet humbled Himself to be friends with his disciples. He told the apostles and through the apostles, told the hierarchy, clergy, men and women religious and lay people to respond to his invitation: “You are my friends" (Jn 15:14). To be friends with Jesus is such a great honor! A question that arises here is whether people really believe Jesus can be their friend. One might believe, because Jesus said so. However, whether people have experienced his love and friendship with Him or not is another story. To be able to experience what it means to live in friendship with God, people need to invite Him into their hearts and lives. There are those who just need God when they encounter trials and tribulations, yet in happiness, they forget God.
When experiencing something joyful, or recalling something that brings joy, people give thanks to God outwardly and inwardly. When experiencing something sad, people ask God be their strength and reason to live. When suffering from sickness and burdens of life, people ask God to strengthen their hearts and souls. When feeling weak points of the body, size, look, or unpleasant temperament, leaving them with these infirmities, they offer unto God and ask Him to help them cope with the inferiority complex. When being ostracized by others, they pray, asking God to come and be their friend for comfort in life. When standing in a road junction, not knowing which way to follow, they ask God to show them the way. That is the way people do, to help them live in intimacy with self and God. In short, in all situations of society and the circumstances of life, the only God whom they can put faith, hope and trust in his power and nestle under the shadow of his protective wing.
Being in intimacy with God and self should help people cope with moments of loneliness. To have an intimacy with God and self, loneliness leads to solitude of soul where people can have stillness and tranquility of soul. To have an intimacy with God and self, one likes to seek an isolate and desolate place as to be able to maintain and prolong the solitude and tranquility of soul and experience the presence of God and intimacy with him. To seek an isolate and desolate place does not necessarily mean literally, that is to go into the desert or wilderness. One can create an isolate and desolate place in one’s soul where only God and self are present as Jesus taught: “When you pray, go to your room and close your door” (Mt 6: 6). According to St. Ambrose then, to close the door to pray is to go to the inner room of the soul, where are stored ideas, thoughts, feelings and aspirations. This inner room always goes with each person.
Preparing to respond to God’s call from this life
Often at the mature age, people start preparing to leave from this life in order to be unburdened with life and at peace with God and with others. If still being in debt on material goods, people find ways to repay. If being unable to repay directly to creditors, people can pay indirectly by helping those in hunger, sickness and disease. If still being in debt for offending anyone, they seek to be forgiven. If still being in red, people are planning to think about the distribution of their money for charitable, social and educational works not just to help their children and grandchildren. Without a will, those charitable, social, education institutions will lose the money that people have planned to help. If still being in debt to God, people also think about making the sacrament of penance as to be forgiven and reconciled to the Creator and Judge.
John Tran Binh Trong