A woman representing her parish in Burlington County engages in a Faith In Our Future planning meeting. Monitor file photo
A woman representing her parish in Burlington County engages in a Faith In Our Future planning meeting. Monitor file photo
" We often forget that the primary Sacrament is Baptism, and it is through the Sacrament of Baptism that we receive our call to follow Jesus and work to establish the reign of God in our time. "

A recent blog post on the vocation of the laity drew a flurry of comments from readers including one who was frustrated by the idea that a Catholic blogger was trying to make a vocation into something more than the reader believed it actually was – a career choice by those who decided to become priests or enter religious life.

Arguments ensued, with many readers agreeing with this perspective and others more in line with actual Church teaching – vocation is not merely a career choice, but a calling from God to live a life of holiness within a particular state of life.

Most Catholics are familiar with vocation, which comes from the Latin word meaning “a call,” as it relates to the priesthood, the diaconate or religious life.  Less understood is the Church’s teaching that every baptized Catholic is called by God to a personal vocation through which they live out the call to holiness. Some are called to the Sacrament of Marriage, some to parenthood and family life. Others are called to the single life.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear that, whatever their state in life, every baptized Catholic is called to holiness for their own benefit, as well as the benefit the Church and the world: The faithful “have their own part to play in the mission of the whole Christian people … By reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them in according to God’s will … it pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are closely associated that these may always be effected and grow according to Christ and may be to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer.” (CCC  897, 898).

The laity do this, explains the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults, “in the context of their lives within families, parish communities, civic communities, and the work place. The every day gift of themselves in love and care for others, often done at great personal cost, is a priestly offering that is joined to the sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist. By words and deeds faithful to the Gospel, they evangelize others … By seeking to build the common good of society on the basis of moral principles they strengthen civic communities …”

For those who respond to the vocation of marriage, their call to holiness and love is lived out within the couple’s relationship and the life of their family. If they are blessed with children, their vocation to love includes raising their children to know and love God. Their home becomes the domestic Church from which the family goes out into the community and evangelizes by living the Gospel and following the model of Jesus Christ.

For those who are single, responding to God’s call to holiness means living God’s truth and love in all the circumstances of life, in the work place, in ministry, in relationships with friends and family. Their works of love and service bring God’s love to others and help transform the Church and the community.

Beginning with Baptism

“We often forget that the primary Sacrament is Baptism and it is through the Sacrament of Baptism that we receive our call to follow Jesus and work to establish the reign of God in our time,” admitted Msgr. Vincent Gartland, who prior to his retirement from active ministry in 2014 had served for 19 years as pastor of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville.

Msgr. Gartland referenced the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church: “The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and every one of his disciples, regardless of their situation.” What that means, he reflected, is that “there are no degrees of holiness.”

Father Lee, a priest for more than 27 years and current pastor of St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck, cited the Catechism’s reference of the common priesthood of all believers (the baptized) and the particular (ministerial) priesthood of the ordained and how they should be mutually supportive in advancing the mission of the Church.

The common priesthood, said Father Jeffrey Lee, can be lived out in the vocation of marriage or as a single person while the particular priesthood of the ordained is generally lived out in a chaste celibate vocation as priests. There also exists the ordained deacons who may be married or otherwise called to embrace the chaste celibate life.

“Some might suggest that one is better or greater than the other, however it is not so,” he said. “They differ in substance but are ordered toward the salvation of souls in the local Church and the domestic Church of the home. Therefore, these expressions of ministry are by nature mutually supportive and life-giving.”

Msgr. Gartland acknowledged the majority of the laity choosing to live out their vocation in the loving and supportive relationship of marriage then said, “No relationship is more central to our society as the family. It is where we learn about moral principles and where we learn to act on them and begin to realize our dignity and rights in relationship to others.”

Growing in Love, Service

Referring to the increasing number of lay women and men pursuing pastoral and theological studies, Msgr. Gartland said, “Those who are taking their rightful place in the celebration of the Eucharist and in parish life and administration are bringing an essential element to the growth and vitality of the Church. In places where the laity are encouraged and welcomed as real collaborators, the Church is flourishing, where their gifts are ignored or denied, the Church stagnates,” Msgr. Gartland said.

Dr. Zeni Fox, professor emeritus of Pastoral Theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary and well-recognized leader in lay formation, believes that the Baltimore Catechism question: “Why did God make you?” and the answer, “God made me to know him, to love him, and to serve him in this life, and to be happy with him forever in the next,” captures the essence of vocation.

The United States Bishops taught that lay persons are called to ministry in the world, and in the Church, she explains. In their lives as parents, workers, neighbors, citizens, they are called, in the words of John Paul II, to transform the social order.  And as Baptized Catholics, they are called to serve the Church, for example, as directors of religious education, and catechists.

Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, a member of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, is a long-standing leader in The Institute for Pastoral Initiatives at Dayton University, Ohio, and a professor in the Department of Religious Studies. She shared that, “Adult faith formation is an essential element for people consciously to grow in the life of Christ, spiritually, intellectually and pastorally.  Developing in adults a better understanding of and participation in the full sacramental and pastoral missionary life of the Church is essential.” 

She added, “We see in in this society a widespread spiritual hunger - a quest for meaning and for a deeply personal experience of God and of community.  Secularism, materialism, atheism, nones, ethical relativism, religious indifference, and tensions rooted in religious or cultural pluralism are prevalent in society. Ongoing adult faith formation is an opportunity to deepen one’s critical reading, reflection, and dialogue around the issues that face and challenge our faith today but with a mature informed mindset.”

Father Lee often recalls that Jesus went about accomplishing his mission of building the Church by sending his apostles and disciples out two by two.

“The Sacred Scriptures offer us a blueprint for accomplishing the mission and a reminder that as individuals we do not possess all of the requisite gifts and talents alone to serve the community entrusted to our care,” said Father Lee.

“Serving together is a living icon of how Jesus is calling us to build the Church in our time. The vocation of a diocesan priest is fundamentally a call to serve with others to advance the Kingdom of God in our midst.”

Associate publisher Rayanne Bennett and Associate Editor Mary Stadnyk contributed to this story.