While a career is a mode of making a living and contributing to the earthly welfare of the human community, a vocation is a call from the Divine Persons to a way of life. It is a beckoning, an invitation to give oneself totally to another person in accordance with the divine plan. Superficial writers and speakers could have thought of the idea of a temporary vocation only because they were not thinking of vocation at all. They were thinking of a career, an impersonal commitment to a job to be done. To be head over heels in love as a divine invitation seems to have escaped their vision of the evangelical counsels.Fr. Thomas Dubay Fr. Thomas Dubay
One of the basic mistakes some religious men and women have made in recent decades is to think of themselves as pursuing first of all a work to be done, a career. It seems not to have occurred to them that their life is precisely that, a life, an answer to a love call, a self-gift to a beloved. Not surprisingly they then go on to say that mission, not consecration, is the governing principle of their state in life. There is a partial truth here (namely, that mission is important), but it has lost full touch with the New Testament which insists that being is prior to doing.
While a career is a mode of making a living and contributing to the earthly welfare of the human community, a vocation is a call from the Divine Persons to a way of life. It is a beckoning, an invitation to give oneself totally to another person in accordance with the divine plan. Superficial writers and speakers could have thought of the idea of a temporary vocation only because they were not thinking of vocation at all. They were thinking of a career, an impersonal commitment to a job to be done. To be head over heels in love as a divine invitation seems to have escaped their vision of the evangelical counsels.
The most basic vocation is the call to love the Lord God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength (Dt 6:4-5; Lk 10:27). The destiny of the human person is an immersion in the bosom of the inner trinitarian life. This love enthrallment is of course the greatest of all the commandments, the very raison d’être of all men and women in every state of life.
However, this general vocation is to be made concrete according to divinely planned ways of life: the threefold radical counsels, the priesthood, marriage. Scripture does not present singleness as such as a vocation, for it does not include a self-gift to another. Rather it is a readiness for a self-gift. The God of revelation does call some men to the ministerial office in the Church. He calls some men and women to complete chastity, radical poverty, and a new obedience, all for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. And he calls others to marriage and family life.
A vocation therefore is to be sharply distinguished from a career, even though most people do pursue the latter as a source of livelihood and as a contribution to the welfare of the community. For the sake of clarity we may point out several implications of this distinction.
First, a vocation is a result of the divine initiative. God invites one to a state in life. It is not simply a matter of looking about and “choosing what I would like to do in life”. Certainly we would not say that God calls one to be a farmer rather than a baker or a lawyer, at least not as he calls one to priesthood, marriage, or religious life.
Second, the young man or woman approaches the question of state in life as a search for the divine will, not as a matter of selecting the most pleasing way of living. While one may pray about the selection of a career, he most decidedly must pray about responding to the divine call to a state in life.
Third, a state in life is a love matter, a self-gift to another, while a career is neither. A lawyer gives to a client advice, time, concern, expertise, but he does not give himself—nor does a doctor, baker, or engineer.
Fourth, a state in life (the result of a vocation) is a full-time matter, while a career is part time. A married man or woman is always a husband or wife; a priest and religious are always consecrated to the service of the Lord twenty-four hours a day. A teacher or nurse serves as such for a limited number of hours per day and days per week, and after a set space of time finally retires from the job. Husbands and wives, priests and religious remain married or consecrated day and night up to the moment of their deaths, even if and when they give up their work.
Fifth, a career is a means of securing a livelihood, for providing the material necessities of human existence on earth. While men and women pursuing a vocation usually enter some type of work as a means of monetary support, their state in life is something quite other than their technical skills.
Finally, a vocation is permanent; a career is temporary. A coal miner and a barber may leave their occupations whenever they wish, but in the divine plan they may not leave off being married. One may retire from the former but not from the latter. Why this is so we shall explain later.