Sacred Heart

Catholic Church

Imlay City, Michigan  Tel: (810) 724-1135

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Fr. Paul Ward

Sat. & Sun., July 11 & 12, 2015
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

The Difference between Vocation and Election of State of Life



   Today our readings incline us to think of some aspects of our vocation as Catholics. Before entering into this topic, however, just a note or two about parish life.

   I encourage everyone to pray for the beloved youth of our parish, who are on retreat here this weekend, preparing for their pilgrimage; I’ll preach on the saints of the destination shrines later this month.

   Furthermore, in a month or so our Catholic Catechism Camp starts for the children. Please bring your kids, and remember that the future confirmation candidates can provide some volunteer hours already during this event.

   That said, let us look at our readings, and meditate on this word, “vocation.” There is much confusion about this word in our times. As the word takes its etymology from the word “to call” in Latin (vocare), some mistake the etymology for a definition, and leave it at that. From that, some have expectations to physically hear God speaking, either in prayer or discerning some important issue, and are confused when they discover that God usually doesn’t work that way. Some also use the term “vocation” as something interchangeable with the concept of “state of life in the Church,” meaning, in general, whether priest, married, religious or single, and in particular, marriage to this person or that, or entering this religious community or that one. These few examples help us realize that many are confused about this term “vocation,” and the confusion can frustrate greatly.

   I cannot propose an comprehensive discourse on everything that could be said about the word “vocation,” so today I wish only to help make clear the difference between the word “vocation” and the expression “state of life.”

   All the baptized have a vocation, and it’s the same vocation: eternal life. But not all the baptized enter into the same state of life, as people, moved by God’s grace and providence, choose varying states of life.

   That all the baptized have a vocation, and this same one, is very clear in the scriptures and in the Church Fathers. Never once do the scriptures or Church fathers apply the word “vocation” to “election of state in life.” Yet often St. Paul speaks about this vocation to heaven, and will even say we are “destined” to attain it. In today’s reading of Ephesians 1, St. Paul says, “He destined us…” But the word is “praedestinavit” (Lat.; Gk., proorisas hemas), “predestined.”
[1] This word can be disturbing to us, especially ever since John Calvin gave it his interpretation, that some are predestined to heaven and some are predestined to hell, and nothing man can do can ever change that; John Calvin is a heretic, and was wrong, and has done immeasurable amount of damage to souls because of this heresy.

   Perhaps a small example can explain the true way to speak of a vocation of “predestination” as St. Paul and later St. Augustine use the word. When an archer shoots an arrow, the destination is the target; the archer “predestines” the arrow to the target. When the arrow leaves the string, it can only do what the archer, the string and the wind make it do. It is passive, absolutely receptive. Now, let us think of God as the archer, and man as the arrow. The point of impact on the target is no longer determined absolutely by the physics of the many interacting forces; one more element comes into play: the arrow is rational and free, and may decide, “Today I’ll not hit the red bull’s eye, rather, I’ll hit the blue.” Having been predestined, he will perform perfectly as God the archer has predestined him only if he also freely chooses to. God predestines with love, but man may collaborate or refuse God’s will over himself. Therefore, anyone can get to heaven, and anyone can get to hell – a sober truth that may inspire incredible hope but also a healthy fear.

   When it comes to a state in life, however, there God leaves man in the hands of his own judgment. Not that He abandons man; he inspires him, gives him opportunities, shuts the doors on other opportunities, plants desires in the heart, places people in his life to attract or dissuade him from one path or another. So when man chooses his state in life, he would be very foolish to slam the door on God’s face and say, “I’m just going to do whatever I feel like and let God leave me alone.” Rather, he must deliberate wisely and choose freely, choosing from among good ways to serve God, but always in a prayerful dialogue with the Lord.

   In today’s first reading Amos tells how God took him from being a “shepherd and a dresser of sycamores,” and spoke to him, making him a prophet. Indeed, there are a small number of souls, microscopically minuscule in number, who receive visions and locutions from God. They must obey these special communications. But most men do not experience that. When one thinks that his election of state in life is a “vocation” in the strict sense of God telling him, “You, do that!”, he might start imagining voices or communications instead of being spontaneously open to the normal inspirations and providence of God’s grace in his life. Then he risks chasing after his feelings or imagination, and saying to everyone, “God told me this, God told me that,” when God said none of these things, they only erupted from pride and an excited imagination.

   Between these two things – one’s vocation, and one’s election of state in life – there exists an order. It is the election of state in life that should serve the universal vocation of all the baptized. That is, one should choose marriage only if he discerns that it will contribute to his eternal salvation, and more than any other state of life. One should choose the priesthood, religious life or the single life for the same reason. They are all means to this great end. And as means, they should not be only for oneself, but each, singly also seem to be the best way, for this individual or that one, to help others attain the goal of the vocation to heaven. But still, in our times, people mix the words “vocation” and “state in life,” so you will even hear me sometimes use one term in place of another, never on accident, but when I think doing so will help confused minds understand one point or another properly.

   May each one of us, by Mary’s intercession, be faithful to our state in life, upon which a large portion of our final judgment will depend. For which we trust also in our angel’s help, and the mercy of the Trinity. Amen.


[1] The Bishop’s lectionary edition has the words, “In love” before “he destined us.” The Nestle-Aland Greek edition does not have the expression “in love” in any way, nor in any variant manuscript cited in the footnotes.”























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