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Lord, I am open to your will. Now can you give me what I want?

May 26, 2009
I’m heading toward a Vocation, but I got stuck in this State…Ann M. Hanincik, M.T.S.

Opening ourselves to the Lord – to His will for us and to His working in our hearts – sounds easy enough on paper. Saying, “I am open” is a snap; being open is an entirely different matter. And yet, the two are not unrelated. Even if I don’t “feel” something when I say those words, simply saying them is not useless. Sometimes just keeping faith with the Lord, letting Him take the “burden of belief,” so to speak, has to suffice as part of my spiritual growth. The more I let myself go and place everything in His hands, the more I learn faithfulness, trust, and real love. In fact, I end up becoming more like God, who is ever-faithful to me – even when I act like a lazy jerk.

What does all of this have to do with being a single person desiring marriage? In this series of columns, we’ll take a look at the desire for marriage alongside the desire to “do things God’s way” – to respond to His will for our lives – and try to understand just what that way is. We’ll reflect on the meaning and method of discernment, that is, what it means to “discern my vocation.” We’ll also look at what it means to live here and now, in anticipation of the fulfillment of our desires. Having a desire for marriage, but living in the “not yet,” can be at best challenging, and at worst, very painful. But it can – and should –be a source of joy and fruitfulness. Through these pages, we’ll work on discerning how that can be, and how we can live as the men and women God created us to be right where we are. But to begin things from the beginning, it’s helpful to look at two terms that are closely related, but often confused as being synonymous: vocation and state in life.

We are exhorted just about every Sunday to “pray for an increase in vocations.” We’re told there is a “vocations crisis,” and that without more vocations, our Church will become smaller, weaker, and might just disappear. This is all true, but not for the reason you may be thinking. You see, the real vocations crisis is the fact that most Catholics don’t realize they have one – let alone that they should be living it as robustly as possible. Common parlance has made the word vocation refer simply to one’s calling to the priesthood or religious life. If one “has a vocation,” it necessarily means a one-way ticket to the seminary or convent. The problem is that we are confusing vocation – in the broad sense – with its specification, namely one’s state in life. The word vocation (from the Latin, vocare) means “calling,” and anyone called to the priesthood or religious life is certainly called by God. But there is a vocation – a particular calling – that precedes it, and which forms the very structure of our being: the vocation to love.

This vocation is present in all of us from the moment of our creation. We were created by Love (God), with love and for love. Everything about us – our sex (maleness and femaleness), our physical being and spiritual soul, our intellect and will, and our personalities – is meant to be the embodiment of this structure of love. In and through our Baptism this structure is animated – through our words and actions, in our sacramental and spiritual life, and in our very being as children of God. Baptism bestows on us our vocation – our priesthood – which is the call to love God and our neighbor. In this way it is true to say that we all have a vocation. The real crisis is that so often we fail to live it out.

If we all have a vocation, and it is to love, then it is the how that really must be discerned. How am I to love others, given the fact that my vocation (my calling from God) is to love as He does? This is where the question of state in life comes in. Our state in life is the how of the baptismal vocation to love. There are two ways in which the vocation to love is lived out: in the consecrated state (that is, priesthood or religious life), and in the married state. These two states in life are the how we love, and give flesh to the structure of love God has bestowed on us. Now, you may be thinking, “OK, I understand that. We all have a vocation to love, and our state in life is how we love. There are two states in life: consecrated and married. But wait – I’m neither one of those!! What about me??” This is a great question, and it will be at the heart of the reflections that will follow in the coming months. For now, let’s stay with these terms – vocation and state in life – and flesh them out a bit more. Our next column will begin to look more closely at the two states in life, and where that leaves those of us who seem to land somewhere in the middle.

Back to the question of vocation vs. state in life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Familiaris Consortio on the subject of humanity: “Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” (2392) This being the case, it would seem that the first obligation we have as persons made in God’s image and likeness is to become good lovers! To love well – fully and completely, without condition – is to be fulfilled. We become the men and women God created us to be when we love. This may seem really simple, or even repetitive (“didn’t she say that already?!”), but it’s fundamentally important to understand. No matter who we are or where we find ourselves in life, the most important thing we can do is to love. You may be thinking to yourself, “I’m pretty sure I know what love is already…but, just for kicks, I’ll ask: what is love?” It’s so simple, so familiar, something we all experience, and yet we tend to complicate love, misidentify it, abuse it, run away from it, or try to force it. For our purposes, let’s boil it down to three simple words: presence, openness, and gift.

To love another is to be present to him: to be attentive, to know him and to be for him. To love is to be open to the other: to make space for him, to be transparent before him, holding no secret or agenda, and being open to the truth of who he is. And to love is to be a gift to the other: to give oneself completely, without reservation or condition, and in light of his fulfillment, rather than one’s own satisfaction. This is love, and this is the vocation of every one of us as God’s own sons and daughters.

Next time we’ll go a little deeper and look specifically at the states in life, and begin to see where we – those folks in the middle – really fit in. In the meantime, spend some time reflecting on your vocation, and right now – where you are – practice loving wholeheartedly, vigorously, and well.


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