Kirsten Pinto Gfroerer
One day when I was twenty, I found myself sitting in the sunlight on the kitchen floor, deep in conversation with my brother. I am not sure if we were arguing or simply exploring a thought. However, in the midst of the dialogue, I unwittingly said the words that have shaped my life since. Sometimes the simplest lines, when they slip from your tongue, can revolutionise everything. I said to my brother, “Well, if we are created by God, we are created to worship him; this is the whole purpose of existence. This is our only purpose for existence.”
What struck me so profoundly that day in the sunlit kitchen was that simply assenting to belief in
a creator makes me responsible to respond to that creator with my existence. In other words, assenting to belief in a creator means believing that I have a vocation. That day, I saw for a brief moment that I had two choices: not to believe in the Creator God, or to live like I did by living my life with meaning and purpose, by discerning my vocation and by participating in his glory. There was from that moment no way to opt out of a vocation with any intellectual integrity unless I was to become an atheist. Since I would be a very pathetic atheist, I have spent the last 20 years trying to understand what a vocation is and what my own vocation is.
Vocation comes from the Latin word vocatio, which means a call, a summons. The term vocation originated in the Christian tradition, and its definition is deeply rooted in Christian faith. To believe in Creation means to believe that we are given our life. Without that gift and without the giver who summons vocatio, we would not exist. Our personhood, our character, and our self originates, exists, and ends in the giver. Our human task, then, is to receive the gift.
The creation account in the first chapter of Genesis conjugates the Hebrew word “to create” in the completed mood. That is to say, in the original Hebrew the word “create” means that whatever God is creating “has been created, is created, and will be created until its fulfillment” (Paul Evdokimov, The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty, 1990). God has completed his work of creating, but he has also given us time and the potential to do our part within his work. We are called to become.
However, we have proven unable to respond fully to this call. From creation, we fall; we take a fundamental turn away from the call of life, and we turn to the possibility of nothing. Thankfully, there is one who perfectly received the gift and gave it back to his Father on our behalf. The Gospel teaches that Christ takes our fallenness into himself. He carries us in his body through death into resurrection, which is participation in the life of God, the life of infinite possibility. There he holds our vocation: “Our life is hidden in Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1).
Therefore, we seek the form of Christ and his body, and our own part in it. We are all incorporated into his body in Baptism and each has a particular life to live in the world and for the world. To have a vocation is to grow and flourish within the particularity of our own being and within life’s conditions and limits, including marriage, children, parents, religion, national identity, education, biological limitations, and personality.
Vocation cannot be limited to a career or primary occupation; it is definitely not limited to what we do for money. To limit vocation in this way is to reduce our personhood to a commodity and to limit our lives to the sustenance of our material body. Vocation embraces all of the conditions of life, including our suffering, and pulls us beyond the limits of our being and into the realm of infinite possibility. Life is this interweaving of circumstances. Everything that happens in our life, good or bad, success or failure, are ways through which God calls to us.
When confronted with limits or suffering, life does not stop; it deepens. This doesn’t mean that suffering is good, but rather that suffering is never meaningless. Our limits and suffering are not necessarily barriers to our vocation, but may become its building blocks.
Recognising one’s vocation is a process of discernment and integration. Because it is a gift, it is not something that is possessed. It is something in which we participate through intuition, thoughtfulness, and attention. Our task is to be awake, to look, to act, and to become. We are created in the “completed mood”: we have been created, we are being created, and we will be created until our fulfillment.