Each summer, from the time I was 10 until about 16, I attended a diocesan-sponsored “Vocation Camp” in South Dakota. Several communities of sisters, nuns, worked together to put on a three-day-long camp for pre-teen and teenage girls in the Sioux Falls Diocese. I loved going to that camp; loved that time with friends and the outdoors and nuns who refused to be scary caricatures of themselves. They taught me that finding our vocation is not (only) about becoming a nun or getting married or staying single. No, they urged me, listen closely to the gentle urgings inside of me that whisper of deep longings; yearn toward my vocation.
I have a great friend who is a convert to Catholicism from Lutheranism. She’s this brilliant woman who I love talking with for countless reasons—one of which is that her perspective usually informs my own in unexpected ways. Over the summer, we had a short conversation about careers and life choices and our passions. I’ve been in the midst of launching what I hope is a life-giving, vocation-filled career in academia and she is feeling less-than-fulfilled in her lawyer life. She asked me questions about why I want to do this, how I am thinking about this choice.
At some point in our conversation, I wondered if being a scholar of American Catholicism might be my vocation; am I called to this work? For my formerly-Lutheran friend, it was a weird way to use that word.
Wikipedia reminded me that the word vocation comes from the Latin “vocare”: to call. I grew up understanding that we are called by God to live lives that bring our potential to fulfillment and glorify God. While my understanding of God has shifted from the man sitting in a golden chair picking up a phone to call me and tell me what to do, I do find profound value in thinking about what I feel called to do.
One of the things Jen & I found in From the Pews in the Back (as have many sociologists and Catholic commentators) is that young women tend to have a very rich and complex understanding of “vocation.” In the non-Catholic world, as my friend reminded me, vocations are about technical training—we have vocational schools and we train people in occupational skills. In the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church, vocation referred narrowly to the priesthood or sisterhood. After Vatican II, Catholics tend to use vocation to indicate lifestyle choices—married, religious, or single. And or as along as I can remember, I’ve understood vocation to describe a sort of deep-rooted calling of meaning in our lives.
How do you understand your calling; your vocation? What is your description of vocation? What does it mean in your life?
Kate Dugan is a co-editor of From the Pews in the Back and one of Northwestern University’s newly enrolled students.