July 6, 2007


In the course of my religious life I have encountered an astounding diversity of theologies of vocation and vocational discernment. But often it comes down to one question: does God will a particular and certain path for each person?

In other words, is there only one possible correct outcome as we try to discern a vocation? Is God's will so specific that the divine will means for one to become a religious is this community, or to marry this particular person, or to become a hermit, or to stay single in the world?

Some say yes. Others say it's a more complex process of cooperation without a predetermined outcome. I have heard wise people come down on both sides of the question.

For whatever reason I was thinking about it yesterday on the bus, and I thought of a simple problem I hadn't noticed before.

Let's say the divine will has A. entering religious life, but A. marries B. instead. This means that both are in the wrong vocation, because B. has also missed the mark. Or let's say C. was supposed to marry D., but D. becomes a hermit, and now C. goes and marries E., whom God meant to marry someone else entirely.

Thus the whole idea of God demanding a certain and particular vocation from each, though it seems encouraging in the individual interior life, breaks down when it comes to an inter-personal system. But is this a reductio ad absurdum for the whole idea? Well, it would seem so, because why would God let someone suffer the loss of his or her proper vocation because of the negligence of another?

On the other hand, the world is full of those who suffer unfulfilled lives of poverty, sickness and despair because of the selfish choices of others.


Anonymous said...

Ha, this one really struck home for me. For the past six months I had been unsure about my own vocation, and had been dating someone. Just last weekend I broke up with her and told her that I was fairly confident (again) that God was calling me to the priesthood. One thing I said to her was that even though she thinks that we are meant to be married, if I am right about this, and God is calling me to the priesthood, then he must necessarily have some other happiness in store for her, because he would not tie her ultimate happiness to me if he was tying my ultimate happiness to the priesthood. Now, of course, after reading your post, I have no idea what to think :)

One thing I think I've come to understand in this whole process, and I've been seriously discerning for about two years now, is that ultimately when we set out to do God's will, we will find that finding out our ultimate vocation is really a practice of finding out our ultimate desire, because that is how God leads us, I think. God wishes us to be happy, and so when we seek to do God's will, usually the happiness and joy that we find in something is the greatest indication that it is what God wants for us.

Jason said...

In regards to marriage, I've always liked what one of my college ministers said once: Right now, there are likely several people with whom you could be married and raise a family in the Christian faith. But after you get married, there's only one person for you!

I do think that God calls some specific people to a specific vocation, such as Moses, David, and people like St. Francis. And maybe we are each designed with a certain calling in mind that will provide the most fulfillment, but if in our pride or stubbornness we choose another direction, God will work with that too. In short, I'd say it's a both/and kind of thing :)

Charles of New Haven said...

Ha! That's the great thing about truly "catholic" Christianity--we always say "both/and." And we know it to be the case.

God is both unity and trinity.
Jesus Christ is both God and man.
We are both in the world and delivered from it.

Charles of New Haven said...

And Michael, that's a brilliant reflection. All desire is ultimately desire for God--and so leads us to God's will if we use it well.

Don said...

Interesting and I don't have an answer either. I think God gave us a free will and if we learn to follow our heart we get to where we are supposed to be. How we read the will of God is often mediated by our genetics and environment. I think there is a lot of wisdom in Psalm 139 but I think it takes a lot of listening and experience to hear it and maybe we never hear it completely.

FreeThinker said...

Have you considered that perhaps there is no such thing as a god?

Charles of New Haven said...

Certainly I have considered the "existence" of God. In fact, I am comfortable the statement that there is "no such thing as God." Because to call God a thing in the sense that we talk about any other thing we know of is much too coarse a description. It would probably be closer and more honest to say that God is no-thing.

Thanks for the comment!