Let’s move beyond a narrow view of vocation

Clare Condon SGS

Clare Condon SGS

Vocation must be recognised and fostered within every person. There can be no special status for anyone, writes Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

BY Clare Condon SGS*

Recently in Kraków, Poland, during World Youth Day, Pope Francis spoke very plainly to young people. He said: “Dear young people, we didn’t come into this work to ‘vegetate’, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark”. Pope Francis invited them to search out their true vocation and purpose in life and to make a difference.

The mark that he was referring to implies a freedom that brings happiness into one’s own life and to the lives of others, rather than “rejection, division and emptiness”.

During the past week, the Catholic Church in Australia focused on Vocation Awareness Week, with an emphasis on priesthood and religious life. The focus of this campaign was directed at young people. It saddens me that the Church, often when it speaks of vocation, has such a narrow view of this profound word vocation. Surely such a rich concept of meaning and purpose in life belongs to every person if they are to be a mark for happiness, goodness and right relationship, as implied by the Pope in his addresses to those attending World Youth Day.

Immediately after Vatican II, some 50 years ago, within the local Church there was great emphasis on the vocational call of every baptised person. We saw the formation of parish pastoral councils and the introduction of significant faith and theological education for lay adults. There was hope of an inclusive Church, one where everyone’s baptismal call was recognised and equally valued; where the contribution of all would find a place for goodness and right relationships.

That hope has faded as a hierarchical framework continues to shape the life of the Church, and is in fact reinforced by an apparent emphasis on vocation as the exclusive domain of priesthood and religious life. Such an emphasis can only be interpreted as setting up a hierarchy of vocation within a status-ridden Church and not creating an equality of vocation.

If the youth of the Catholic Church are to “leave a mark”, as Pope Francis put to them so forcefully, and if it is to happen within the Church, then the structure of the Church must change along with an underlying theology which will enunciate the dignity of every human vocation for bringing about happiness, goodness and right relationships. Vocation must be recognised and fostered within every person. There can be no special status for anyone. Everyone seeks to find meaning and purpose in their lives.

During Vocation Awareness Week, when I read many of the advertisements for priestly and religious life in Catholic newspapers, I wondered what young people, if any, would respond today to these advertisements. To me, many of the advertisements spoke of a time that has passed by.

In the history of the Catholic Church, religious orders have come and gone, and usually were founded to address a particular societal need or prophetic stance in Church or society. Many orders have now fulfilled the purpose for which they were founded. Their schools, hospitals and welfare services have been missioned to new bodies, mainly to committed lay people, who will carry on the charism and mission started long ago. These lay people are the models for young people today. They are now the leaders in faith and spirituality.

There will always be a place for religious life within the Church, but let it be a prophetic force which assists in the empowerment of all people to make a contribution – to make a mark for happiness, goodness and right relationships in a world struggling with “rejection, division and emptiness”. May the words of Pope Francis resonate with all of us, not just those who heard him speak in Kraków.

* Sister Clare Condon is the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict.

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The Good Oil, August 16, 2016. If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.

9 Responses to “Let’s move beyond a narrow view of vocation”

  1. Christine Tapsell says:

    Well expressed, Sr Clare; it concerns me that many of those leading the Church haven’t really implemented many of the insights of Vatican 11, as in the case of what a “vocation” means, and what the “Church” means, i.e., not just the hierarchy.
    Thank you for publishing this excellent statement.

  2. MaureenSuggitt says:

    I am a Lay Salvatorian working in the church as a volunteer in Pastoral Care and meditation this brings me a sense of self achievement and friendship in our church community

  3. Leonie Cornell says:

    I think that maybe we are journeying along the way to understanding the true meaning of vocation. Certainly The Catholic Guy in his teaching not only shows the meaning of the lay vocation but asks everyone to embrace it and find their own dream that is the journey God has asked us to take.
    In our parish, we have a number of opportunities to embrace learning and to play our part. There is a pastoral council, and many other ways of sharing our gifts including a study group named Friends of Augustine, plus a group that is designed to assist those men who are undergoing training as Augustinian priests.
    We also have regular seminars and guest speakers via the web or in person to educate us all and a great library. It only asks us to take that step and be involved . Hoping that all parishes move in this direction and so happy for our spiritual leader Pope Francis.
    Sr Clare I have heard you speak and I am very in awe of your spirituality and how you live out your life. I am proud to be a past student of a Good Sam school.

  4. Thanks, Sr Clare.
    With important exceptions, Catholic social services, health and education are now largely the work of lay people, building on earlier work by professed religious, and still supported and auspiced by religious congregations and dioceses. Your own congregation is a valued part of this rich tapestry.
    As you would know well, many within these services understand their role as one of vocation, as responding as part of the Church to the call of the Gospel. Thank you for your affirmation in this article of that role.

  5. Marie Casamento says:

    Thank you Clare for validating similar musings I have had on the role of all of us. I recall forty years ago many people throwing up their arms in disbelief as religious and clergy left their vocations. These people stepped forward as lay people to take up their place in the church thus giving other laity the challenge to respond to the challenges of Vatican 11. Change can be scary but it can also be exciting. Marie Casamento

  6. Rose says:

    Respectfully, it is unfair to live many years as a Religious and then devalue such a life.
    By doing this, it means today’s young are not afforded the same opportunity to live a possible vocation as a Religious.

  7. Diana Law says:

    Congratulations Clare on your courageous response to the vocational needs of our times to create “a freedom that brings happiness into one’s own life and to the lives of others, rather than “rejection, division and emptiness”. As a congregation, Good Samaritans are so blessed by your prophetic leadership.

  8. Teresa O'Connor says:

    Thank you! Thank you Sister Clare for articulating these points and for reminding us that we all have a calling, not just those in specific religious orders.

  9. Alice Priest says:

    the reluctance to widen the invitation to more broadly understand and realise vocation seems to go hand in hand with the Church’s narrowness of view on how vocation is linked both to religious life and to gendered parameters

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