Monday, May 8, 2017

Listening to the promptings in our hearts helps to ascertain our vocation in life.

The fourth Sunday of Easter is also called Good Shepherd Sunday in the Catholic Church.  On this day, the church prays specially for vocations including the vocation to the priestly life and the life of a religious.  This comes from the understanding that priests and religious are called to live this life by God.  The very word ‘vocation’ comes form the Latin ‘vocare’ which means voice.  But should this only be limited to the priestly and religious life?  I am wondering if this is too narrow a scope and I believe that it gives the unfortunate impression that the married life isn’t a vocation as well. 

The way that many marriages end up in sad separations and civil divorces (I say civil because in the Catholic Church, there is no such thing as a divorce.  Annulments are the official declaration that the marriage that was entered into was not a marriage insofar as the laws of the Church were concerned) could be indicative of the fact that there was little or no proper discernment by the couples to verify in a serious way if they were at all called to the married vocation in the first place.  The married life seems to be a ‘default choice’ for many, leaving those who are not married to a sad state in life that makes them think that they have been ‘left on the shelf’. 

If God is the giver of life, and if we truly believe that no one is alive ‘by accident’, each life then is called to a specific vocation in life as well. Jesus makes it clear in the gospels that he is the Good Shepherd. He leads his flock, and he also truly cares for each one personally.  His personal care and love therefore extends to the way that we exist and live our lives, which is what our ‘vocation’ is – a life that we are called to. 

Everybody knows that the journey to the priesthood is a long and arduous one.  Many years are spent behind the seminary walls, and for a multitude of reasons.  Apart from the many hours spent in serious study, the years of formation are assiduously spent in praying and discerning, together with those in charge of our formation, if the seminarian really has the vocation to the priesthood or the religious life.  It is never an arbitrary and unilateral decision.  The lives of those come under their pastoral care are at stake. 

If there is little or merely superficial prayer and discernment by single unmarried people before they make that decision to marry in the sight of God in church, the consequences can be rife.  The Sacrament of Matrimony is called a sacrament because it is a visible sign of the grace of God in the union of the man and woman, with Christ being the one who joins them together.  Sacraments are real and not mere metaphors or symbols as many people may think.  Neither are sacraments to be taken lightly.  Just as no seminarian who becomes a priest would take the sacrament of Holy Orders lightly, but is constantly aware that he is a visible sign of Christ’s love and presence to the world that he minsters to, no person, single or those truly called to the married vocation should take their discernment lightly as well.

Perhaps the way that the Church is preparing single people for marriage isn’t done with as much dedication and seriousness as those who are discerning for the life of the priesthood or the life of a religious.  While it would be almost ridiculous to make it something that one sets aside seven years to ascertain, the current offerings of either a mere weekend at an Engaged Encounter stay-in or seven sessions of the Marriage Preparation Course can only do that much.  Would the Church decide to ordain a man to the priesthood after a weekend’s retreat?  That would be simply dangerous for the person as it would be for the flock he is going to minister to.

Pope Francis has rightly encouraged priests to journey closely with couples before they marry to help them in the discerning process.  This is good advice, but challenges abound.  I would greatly encourage parents of the single adults to also be the voices of discernment to pray with and guide their charges to listen for the voice of the shepherd so that their decision to marry is a response to a vocation in life.  With parents living out the sacramentality of their marriages being the voice of conscience and the examples of Christ-like loving, discernment becomes something that happens throughout the life of the child into adulthood. 

The married life cannot be considered the default vocation.  If it is, little wonder that those who are single end up thinking that they are left on the shelf.  This will end up denigrating the value of the single, chaste life that results from proper and guided discernment.


  1. There is a high correlation between long discernment and the quality and outcome of one's vocation choice but it is not necessarily causative. Case in point being priests who leave the priesthood and match made marriages that seem to have a much higher rate of success.

    I think a much bigger problem is fidelity to vocation once a choice has been made and affirmed before God, level of discernment notwithstanding.

    While the factors causing one to abandon a vocation be it marriage or religious life is multi faceted and complex, I think one also has to be always wary if it could be the devil stirring things.

    The sin of acedia is something I came across recently. I have never heard of this eighth deadly sin also known as the noon day devil. Pope Gregory subsumed it under Sloth to make it a perfect seven but they are distinctly different. Not sure if they they teach this in the seminary but I know it was not taught at the marriage prep course I attended.

    More awareness of this sin will save quite a few marriages in my opinion.

  2. Technically one should spend the years dating to discover if one is called to marriage. The EE or MPC is a great tool to discover if one's partner is suited. Unfortunately, quite a no. of couples do these as an afterthought because it's essential to present the certificate before one gets married in church. And they go for EE/MPC with marriage dates, hotel banquet all booked already so even if they discover their incompatibility, they may not have the courage to hold back (work on their issues 1st) or choose to part ways and forgo the deposits paid.