The word vocation means a calling, and a calling is a proposal or initiative addressed to someone to which that someone is invited to respond.
All of us have received a vocation from God, a multifaceted calling to which we are invited to respond. God calls us out of nothingness into being. Not one of us would be here if God had not called us to be. God also calls us to faith, that is, to life in Christ. This is not something we achieve for ourselves. In fact, it is formal Church teaching that faith is a gift from god that cannot be earned or caused by us. As part of our call to faith, God calls us to eternal happiness in heaven. All this is God’s initiative, God’s call. It is all vocation. Our part is to accept or to reject, to cooperate with God’s invitation or to evade it.
In ordinary Catholic vocabulary, however, we have tended to use vocation to mean God’s call to the priesthood or the religious life. In this chapter, I wish to deal with how such a vocation works.
There are two facets to a priestly vocation: an individual subjective one, and an ecclesial or objective one.
In the heart of the individual, a vocation to the priesthood manifests itself by a combination of appropriate talents and a God-given inclination to use those talents in the service of Christ and the Church as priest. A person who has no bent for learning, who has no potential for public communication of any kind, and who has no leadership skills may be a saintly individual, but he is clearly not called to the priesthood, simply because God has not given him the human equipment that a priest has to have. But even if the human equipment is there, it doesn’t necessarily mean that God is calling the individual to the priesthood. After all, the human talents that are required for priests can be used in lots of other good ways. A vocation to the priesthood seems likely only when the individual begins to perceive some sort of personal attraction to the work of priestly ministry, when he begins to realize that it might be a good thing for him to dedicate the gifts he has received to the Church as a priest. It is not that God awakens him in the middle of the night and tells him to enroll in the seminary; rather, he begins to be aware of the priesthood as a real and appropriate way for him to spend his life. He is led to make a prudential judgement that he may have a priestly vocation.