This week, the Australian Church celebrates National Vocations Awareness Week (NVAW). It’s an opportunity for all people to discern and reflect upon the vocational call which God lovingly and gently places upon all hearts.
Traditionally, the Church teaches that there are four distinct and unique vocational callings: married life, single life, religious/consecrated life, and ordained life. But while NVAW concentrates upon and celebrates these four distinct callings, this week also provides us with an opportunity to remember, offer support to, and stand beside the many faithful people whose lives do not fit seamlessly into one of the four callings.
Our community is made up from a wonderful diversity of people who, due to different circumstances, still strive to faithfully live out God’s calling in their lives; this includes, but is not limited to single parents, those who feel marginalised because of their sexuality, and priests and religious who have left lives of ordained or consecrated ministry. Standing side-by-side with those who may not fit into a prefect vocational model, the four callings that we do have are our focus for this week; they are celebrated as excellent ways of living out our Christian calling.
When we talk about vocations, however, we can get bogged down with a scarcity rhetoric which focusses on the priesthood and religious life; but if we believe that God places a specific calling upon each of our hearts, we must believe that all four callings are co-equal in importance, and that we absolutely need more faithful married couples as well as more faithful single people.
When I heard my vocational calling in August 2011, I was at Mass on a Saturday evening at Sacred Heart Church on the Gold Coast. The priest was preaching about vocations to the priesthood and he said something to the congregation through which God spoke to me. He said, “Have you ever asked anyone to become a priest?” While I could say with certainty that no one had ever asked if I wanted to be a priest, for some reason, I heard his question in my heart – it was as though God spoke to me, gently inviting me to discern the priesthood.
This was a confusing time for me because around the time I heard this calling, I remembered two separate times in my 20’s (that I’d forgotten about), when I’d said to myself, “I hope I’m not meant to be a priest!” I was incredibly fearful of saying yes to the priesthood because up until that point in my life (30 years old), I’d been on the lookout for a wife – having already decided the direction I wanted my life to take.
What I’ve learnt since then is that whatever state of life God calls us to, it’s a life of abundance, love and adventure – rather than scarcity. Whatever state we’re called to, isolation is not part of God’s plan for us; rather, we’re invited to journey with other people through whom we’ll find the support we need to courageously follow the call that God lovingly and gently places upon our heart.
Fr Josh Whitehead