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Waiting in Joyful Hope

Vocations of being

People often ask their priest for advice on "what they should do with their life", and I've received that question many times myself. What I've noticed, however, is that many people don't quite realise that there are, in fact, two kinds of vocations: vocations of doing, but also vocations of being. They are not the same thing, although they do overlap: each person has (at least) one of each. Part of the puzzlement many seem to live about their vocation, therefore, is due (I have found) to a confusion between the two categories. In this post I'd like to share a diagram I often use to explain the "vocations of being". I call it the "vocations wheel":

Vocations wheel

The first thing to notice about the wheel is that the vocations of "celibate life" and "married life" do not touch. This is because they are, by definition, mutually exclusive: celibacy is defined as "the unmarried state", so you simply cannot be married and celibate at the same time. Because each of us is born into a default state of "being single", the first discernment we must make is whether we are called to continue to live as a single person on a stable basis (i.e. as a celibate), or whether we are called to the married state. Given the very exalted spiritual perspective the Church has of married life (it is a mirror, for example, of the love of Christ for his Church), this can be a very complex discernment for those who are journeying on the spiritual path, and quite frankly is too complicated to explain in detail here (perhaps I can do a post on this at a later date). Nevertheless, as I say, it is a basic necessary discernment.

The next level of discernment involves the next two sections of the wheel: clergy and consecrated life, which *are* touched by the "celibate" and "married" sections. This is because it *is* possible to be celibate + clergy at the same time, or to be celibate + consecrated, or even to be celibate + clergy + consecrated. It is also possible to be married + clergy, married + consecrated, or even married + clergy + consecrated. Think of the following possible situations:

  • Celibate + clergy: unmarried bishops, priests, and deacons of the secular clergy
  • Celibate + consecrated: consecrated virgins, monks, nuns
  • Celibate + clergy + consecrated: unmarried bishops, priests, deacons who are part of a religious order
  • Married + clergy: married permanent deacons; in the Eastern churches, married priests
  • Married + consecrated: spouses who are part of a Third Order (e.g. secular Franciscans)
  • Married + consecrated + clergy: married secular clergy who are part of a Third Order

Recent years have seen an upsurge in interest for spiritual associations for the "married + consecrated" state of life, such as in the so-called "covenant communities". Not all of these have been terribly successful, as there is less experience in the Church for this kind of life, but I am convinced that the renewal of married life as a true vocation and a means of holiness will likely require the foundation of such associations. I expect that the wisdom gained from the present experiments will help us in this regard — but only if we get a good sense of what is really going on.