What is a vocation?
The word ‘vocation’ is often used in the special sense of a vocation to the priesthood, to monastic or religious life, or to some other particular role in the life of the Church. Jesus not only called his disciples to follow him, but he also gave them a mission, to preach the Gospel in his name.
This is a particular call God makes to men and women to serve him. Individuals ‘hear’ this call in different ways, and not normally as a result of any great vision or revelation! Perhaps phrases like ‘tune into’ or ‘pick out’ would be more accurate for most of us. We have to listen carefully to the Holy Spirit in the depth of our heart, against a background of a lot of other noise and disturbance.
There are often two indicators of a vocation. One is negative: a fundamental dissatisfaction with a person’s present life and activities. Not because they are bad, but they are not their true work, however lucrative or highly esteemed by others. The other is positive: a definite desire to follow Jesus and do his will, even though it may be unclear for the time being what he wants them to do.
We will almost certainly feel hesitant, because we will be unsure what is going on. And we will soon see that we cannot answer the call with our own resources. God is at work, and we are utterly inadequate without his help and encouragement. But that is where the Holy Spirit comes in. He helps us answer God’s call. If we want to respond, we must ask for the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is always with us too, and he will help us through the sacraments as well as through other people.
A monk or nun is a person in search of God, and in some way a person who is called to monastic life will be someone who is at least beginning to realise that he needs to make this search a priority in life. Our search for God is already a response to the fact that God is calling us, and one of the signs that he is calling us to be a monk, will be our sense of attraction to monastic life. People find monastic communities attractive for many reasons. The community context of a life of faith and prayer is often the reason people will give when asked. For some it will be the dedicated life of service that appeals to them, for others it will be the life of contemplative prayer. Not many newcomers will see themselves as school teachers, but the value of a life of study and the desire to share their love of faith and culture may well be things that will grow during their early years in the monastery. If they had wanted to be parish priests, they could have gone to a seminary, but the sense of solidarity they find in a monastic community, and the way a monastery puts itself at the service of a much wider community can awaken a strong sense of the place of a monastery in the pastoral life of the Church.
In general the monastic path combines a serious desire to pray with a readiness to give one’s life generously to serve God in the practical ways of a community’s life and work, so that God may be glorified in all that we are and do.
If you wish to find out more about monastic vocations or discuss the possibility of a monastic vocation, contact Dom Anselm. You can keep up with Dom Anselm via the Facebook Vocations Page and on Twitter.