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June 15, 2001 Issue
Foundations of Faith

That two-week vocation should last all year

With a life-long vocation - who'd want time off?

By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor

Can we take a vacation from our vocations?

At first glance, the question seems silly. Vocations and vacations don't seem to mix.

But why does taking a vacation from a vocation sound silly?

Before Vatican II, the average person's understanding of vocations was different. Only calls to priesthood and religious life - "formal vocations" - were considered vocations. Most Catholics understood vocations as "always lived." Priests and sisters didn't take vacations from their vocations any more than they went out in public without habits or Roman collars.

Yes, we knew priests and sisters took "time off" - for retreats, sabbaticals or education. But many of us saw these as done to increase their abilities to serve in their vocations - not primarily as recreation.

In other words, we understood formal vocations as a commitment of one's entire life. No one dreamt that Sister might play volleyball on a beach or that Father go to Vegas to play the slots.

On a second level, taking a vacation didn't fit well with the idea of vocation as a special calling. A vocation was never viewed as something one did - like a job - but as something one was. So whatever someone with a formal vocation did either reflected that vocation or served to enhance it - i.e., retreats, education, prayer. A vocation was taken on - but never put off, like a garment that not only covered your life but became one with it.

Given this view of vocation as immersion in a different life from the secular world, taking a vacation from that vocation seemed not only silly, but downright impossible.

Vatican II's teaching brought a new focus to vocations: saying every baptized person has a call from God - not just those called to priesthood or relgious life.

"Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God, should present themselves as a sacrifice, living, holy and pleasing to God. They should everywhere on earth bear witness to Christ and give answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope of eternal life which is theirs" (Lumen Gentium, no.10).

Within this universal call, we each receive a specific call, a unique ministry to serve the common good. To do that, we receive special gifts from the Holy Spirit. "There is only one Spirit, who, according to his own richness and the needs of the ministries, gives his different gifts for the welfare of the Church" (Lumen Gentium, no. 7). Thess gifts are given, not for personal gain, but to build up the church.

This universal call to holiness means that we each have a role to play in bringing Christ's message to others. Vocations aren't just for priests and sisters.

Understanding that, we can begin to understand, even more, why a vocation is something it would be impossible to take a vacation from. Theology professors Michael Law-ler and Fr. Thomas Shanahan, SJ, explain that "Christians may be pilgrims in the world, but they are not tourists. They are called to serve the salvation of God's present creation even as they pass through it to a future life."

Just as we used to think priests and sisters were unable to leave behind habits and collars, so we begin to see that - once we accept the call - we cannot set it aside either. Just as we formerly recognized the completeness of the calling of those in "formal vocations," now we recognize the completeness of our own calls.

This universal nature of vocations can be better understood by recognizing those gifts the Spirit gives. To do do this, we can look at vocations in terms of a secular understanding of gifts.

Say you have a gift for music. If you go on vacation does that mean you cannot play the piano or go to a symphony? Or say you have a gift for languages. When you take a vacation to France, do you suddenly forget how to speak French?

As we begin to see vocation as a universal call, supported by divine gifts such as wisdom and fortitude, leaving that call - for any reason - seems just as nonsensical as these examples.

Take it one step further - into things our society that has at least given nodding acceptance as "commitments," if not as vocations: marriage and parenting. Even though people take vacations without their spouses - a fishing trip with the guys or shopping with friends - they don't forget they're married. They don't leave their wedding rings home. If they hear "their song," they recognize it. They may even buy a gift to bring back to a spouse.

And can parents forget their children? Once a mom learns to wake up at a child's smallest cough, that skill is eternal. And seeing his daughter off on her first formal date will terrify most dads. Does that change if one goes on vacation?

How to be married or a parent changes from situation to situation. But being married or being a parent does not- it is complete immersion, a lifelong commitment and a transforming relationship. And even our society - which often fails at commitment - recognizes these ideals.

Theology professor Philip Kenneson notes that adhering to such commitments helps us remain faithful in a culture that promotes impermanence. Christians, he says, make promises "because we worship a promise-making and promise-keeping God who has called us to do the same as a witness, even if an imperfect one, to God's own faithfulness."

Called to witness God's faithfulness. Called to image God. Lumen Gentium tells us that "each individual layperson must be a witness before the world to the resurrection and life of the Lord Jesus, and a sign of the living God" (no. 39).

None of this can be set aside as we set aside a change of clothes. It cannot be left behind like punching a time clock. Just as God is eternal and unchanging, so our vocations are eternal and unchanging.

Does that mean we can't take vacations? Of course not.

We just have to understand what we are vacationing from - jobs, housework, school - the cares of the temporal world. But we can never take a vacation from life in God's presence. What we are called by God to do in the temporal world - become Christ, reveal Christ and be Christ to others - we can never take time away from.

In the office, the classroom, or on the golf course, we're always called to share our gifts, to reveal Christ, to be God-like. It may not always be a walk on the beach - but the thrill lasts an eternity.

(Sources: Lumen Gentium; Gaudium et Spes; Catechism of the Catholic Church; Life on the Vine; Church: A Spirited Communion.)

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