Newsletter of the District of Asia

 July 1997

Letter of Father Peek: Vocations

Holy Cross Seminary
April 2, 1997

Letter to Friends and Benefactors,

Our Seminary is back at work: the entry retreat and Holy Week are behind us, and so we get back in to the business of nurturing these ‘miracles of grace”, as our founder called each vocation that comes to us.  That is rather an apt title when we consider just what a vocation is, which I should like to do in this letter.

“Vocation” is one of those words susceptible of different meanings and consequently leading to misunderstandings when these are confounded.  Speaking very broadly or loosely, we can call someone’s “vocation” his career or job.  This is how it is understood in the world at large, as, for instance, when before having seminarians here on student visas we had them on a “vocational trainee” visa (now defunct).  This allowed trainee workers in any field into the country - nothing specifically religious about it at all.  Needless to say these are rarely what we would call a divine or God given vocation, as is obvious in the case of those whose career is in fields offensive to Christian morality.  (But extraordinarily they may be, as when St. Joan of Arc was called by God to her political role in the cause of the French king.)  While these are vocations in a natural sense, they are not in a supernatural one, and thus are not what we are talking about when as Catholics we speak of a vocation.

We are speaking more properly of a vocation when we are referring to the various “states in life”, and not just life careers.  By a life state I mean either single in the world, married, or a priest or religious.  These orient our whole lives, with their duties and recreations, virtues to practice and vices to fight against.  They are our moulds for a particular kind of sanctity, our path to heaven.  These vocations can be considered divine if entered into after consideration for the purpose of serving God and saving our souls.  St. Ignatius of Loyola is speaking of this sort of vocation when he says:

“Once an immutable choice has been made there is no further choice, for it cannot be dissolved, as is true with marriage or the priesthood.  It should be noted only that if one has not made this choice properly..., he should repent and try to lead a good life in the choice that he has made.  Since this choice was ill considered and improperly made, it does not seem to be a vocation from God, as many err in believing, wishing to interpret an ill-considered or bad choice as a divine call.  For every divine call is always pure and clean without any admixture of flesh or other inordinate attachments.”

Take for example that difficult and relatively rare state in life: single in the world.  If this is chosen, after prayer, reflection and consultation, the better to serve a noble cause (devote oneself to the founding and running of an orphanage, being a hermit, etc.), then it can be considered a divine call.  If it is chosen in order to avoid the responsibilities of marriage or to be more free in one’s pleasure seeking, it is not from God.  If one wanted to marry but found no spouse who would be a help on the road to heaven, then that too is from God - it is according to His “will of good pleasure” as He reveals it to us precisely by the accidents and events of life.

It is in this sense of the word that we can say “everybody has his own vocation”.

But if we want to speak strictly, or most properly, of a vocation, then we say it is a divine call to be a priest or religious, to continue among men Christ’s very own life and work.  “For every high priest taken from among men, is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins...  Neither doth any man take the honour to himself, but he that is called by God, ...” (Heb 5).  “Come ye after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men.” (Mt 4,19)  “As the Father hath sent me, I also send you” (Jn 20).  “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, the dispenser of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4).

By instituting the sacraments as the ordinary means for grace to reach souls, Our Lord clearly indicates His will to provide souls with pastors who can feed them with His life - Our Lord still calls young men to be priests, for He has chosen to make use of these useless instruments.  Why then do so few make it to the seminary?  A first reason is a general one: our sinfulness and lack of cooperation with the graces He’s showered on the world mean that He is granting His graces (the true Faith, sacraments and priests) more sparingly in these days.  Then again, not appreciating as we should the grace of good pastors, we’ve not been asking for them as we should (“Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that He send forth labourers into His harvest.”)  The world, moreover, has such a hold on people with all its fallacious allurements.  And lastly, many mistake, or do not match up to, the necessary signs, of a vocation.  These are:

- a minimum of physical, intellectual, psychological and moral health (so compromised today by modern education, TV and the general secular environment; and the “crisis in the Church”.)

- an upright intention i.e. a supernatural motive (which need not be an attraction for the life.)

- acceptance in an approved Order or Congregation (for there is no call by God where there is no call by the Church.)

One last word on vocations (in any of the senses mentioned): it is not because it is something good and I want it that God wants it - a very Protestant idea, coming from their “private inspiration” thesis.  It must be something good and wanted for me by God as manifested through my superiors or His will of good pleasure, by external objective criteria.  This is the whole point of the seminary: to test “vocations”, nurture the good and weed out the bad.  May we be found faithful to our God given role.

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