Vocational Triplets?

When we speak of vocations we are almost intrinsically locked into a triplet: Priest, Religious, Married. Sometimes we are willing to admit the addition of a fourth vocation, “The Single Life.” Yet a quick survey shows us that these categories are lacking.

The Permanent Diaconate is usually referred to as a vocation, and may or may not be coupled with marriage. Further, men called to the religious life may also be called to the priesthood. Some men called to marriage discern a priestly vocation after their death. In the Eastern church men may discern a calling to marriage and priesthood (and there are converts in the West who, though married, are ordained priests). Traditionally a man may have stopped at any point along the path of minor orders; there are saints whose vocations were to be Porters. Within religious life there are a variety of charisms that are essentially separate vocations. This is in no way an exhaustive list.

What are we supposed to do when discerning? We hear of the process being referred to as just the triple, so that we just need to discern the priesthood/religious life and then marriage. Quick and easy. But with these other options, not so much.

The problem is that we have built a faulty idea of discernment, as if it is a set of decisions, moving from one to the other until we find the right wrong. It is like car shopping, going from dealership to dealership until everything looks right. But these process can easily leave us uncertain, wondering if we have the right vocation if we have not tried them all. Sure, you discerned the Benedictines, Dominicans, Jesuits, diocesan priesthood, and now have settled (seemingly) on marriage. But what of the single life, or the Canons Regular, or the Permanent (unmarried) Diaconate? Perhaps one may fulfill those last few uncertainties.

This is a fundamentally misguided approach. Discernment is not a multi-point search. It is a single process, a single question: what is God calling me to do with my life?

Vocation is not a state God is calling us to; there will be a state involved (single, married, religious, ordained) but that is a tool in our vocations, not the end of the vocation itself. A man ordained the priesthood cannot simply go home and twiddle his thumbs for the next sixty years; simple being ordained is not his vocation.

Likewise, someone is not called to the single life per se; rather they are called to a specific vocation of doing which is done through the single life (another person may be called to a similar vocation of doing through religious life, married life, etc.). We do not necessarily know the doing when we accept the call, but we know the call is a means and not the end. Vocation seeks in the end to do and not simply be.

When we discern we are not involved in hunting through states, but seeking to know what God wants us to do. Our vocation will come naturally in their pursuit and we will need not worry about not having discerned ‘enough.’ We simply need to seek his will and all will follow after.

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