When I was a military chaplain, the badge I wore on my beret (hat) included the Latin word Vocatio, meaning “called”. The chaplain’s motto in full is Vocation ad servitum, meaning “called to serve”. Our English word “vocation” comes from Latin verb, vocare, to call. For Roman Catholics (and often for Anglicans), a vocation usually refers to some impulse or discernment that leads one into priestly ministry, whereas in many Protestant denominations, the word “call” has a similar meaning.
The black clad monks of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, a monastic order located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, know all about vocations. To visit their monastery on retreat, as I have done, is to be welcomed into the company of mature Christians deeply committed to lifelong disciplines of prayer, counselling, and hospitality. Today’s Friday Theology feature is taken from their online series, “Brother Give Us A Word”, excerpts of their preaching, which is usually of a very high standard. Here, Brother Geoffrey Tristram reminds us that a vocation is something that all Christians receive from he God who knows us and calls us.
“If you have been baptized, then you have a vocation! So what is a vocation? Some people think it must be something that you suddenly get. You’re walking along quite happily one day, and God suddenly “zaps” you with a vocation! I don’t think that’s quite right. I believe that your vocation is that which lies at the very heart, the very core of your identity. It is discovering who it is that you most truly are.
There are particular moments in life, perhaps when you experience something, meet someone, hear some words, which touch that deep core within, and it resonates. And you say – Oh – that’s who I am, or that’s what I want to do or be in life. Sometimes you forget it, or you try to put it out of your mind, if it doesn’t fit in with other plans. But it usually comes back, and deep down, you just know that it’s truly who you are meant to be.
There are some enigmatic words spoken by Jesus in today’s Gospel, which I think speak to the theme of vocation. He says, ‘What will it profit you if you gain the whole world, but forfeit your life?” I think that you can “forfeit your life” deliberately and consistently ignore that inner prompting, the call of your core identity. You can say no to your vocation. You can choose a life more in keeping with your parents’ wishes, social convention, or simply greater security and wealth.
God never forces us to say “yes.” We are always free to choose. But God, who knows the secrets of our hearts, will never stop calling us, inviting us, enticing us, to live the life for which we have been made. These hard Gospel words will always resonate in us, and challenge us: “What will it profit you if you gain the whole world, but forfeit your life?” So, choose life.”