Maybe it’s just the websites I frequent, but it seems as though there is a widespread temptation lately among Catholics—priests and laity alike—to wonder if they have chosen the right vocation. It’s hard to dismiss the idea that the devil is behind this, because there are few things more insidious than the temptation to think we are stuck in the wrong vocation. I wouldn’t put it past the father of lies to tempt others to believe their lives have been a lie. On the other hand, I wonder if this recent wave is based in the human desire for certainty.
If certainty is the issue, let me address that bluntly. Whether it’s priest, nun, sister, single, monk, or married, most of us are not absolutely certain we chose the vocation God originally called us to. There may be signals, signs, tugs, whispers, attractions, feelings, and the inner voice of conscience, all accompanied by a guiding form of grace. But 100% certainty? Whom among us has that?
To be sure, we can have metaphysical certitude about the existence of God, but within the realm of vocational choices, certainty simply doesn’t rise to that level. And it’s always sad when someone, intoxicated with the notion of achieving a 200-proof level of certainty, fails to make a choice at all.
Because the worst part is that the desire for certainty can be a hideous substitute for faith.
But if there is a certainty to be ours, it comes later. In a life full of spiritual paradoxes, the greatest certainty comes not before we choose our vocation, but after it. Before I married my wife, I thought I had a vocation to be her husband and a father to any and all children God blessed us with. Now, I know I do.
I ran across this quote recently by Monsignor Ronald Knox, and it applies beautifully to this discussion:
As to whether God meant you to be a priest, stop worrying. He certainly means you to be a priest now; your priesthood is contained, if not in his antecedent will, at least in his consequent will. You may have crept in under false pretenses like the Gabaonites, but he is faithful to his word, and he promises us the graces we need for our state of life as long as we do our part. He wants you, now, to be a priest, and a good priest.”
As it is for Holy Orders, so it is for marriage.
To Father Knox’s point, whether or not God originally willed that I become a priest, or remain single, or become a monk, or marry a different woman, that really has no bearing on how I spend the rest of my life. God’s will is for me to be faithful to my vows I took in his presence: to be a husband to Lisa and a father to nine (if I may say so) rather awesome children.
And to be a good husband and father—no minor point.
The Catechism states that each Catholic has “a vocation to holiness.” And it is a fundamental principle of holiness that we perform our current duty. If one makes no effort to perform the duty demanded by his or her current state in life, he or she cannot properly be called “holy.” For instance, if I am married with children but refuse to care for my wife and children, even for what appear to be other holy pursuits, I am sorely lacking holiness. And not only am I lacking holiness, but I’m lacking the cardinal virtue of justice, which means giving someone his due. If one lives faithfully to the calling of Matrimony, he is fulfilling a basic precept of holiness and justice.
One last point. As the Catechism explains, vocations have accompanying duties, but they are not meant to be a series of emotionless and robotic tasks. Rather, they are meant to be carried out with love. As Saint Thérèse put it: “Love, in fact, is the vocation which includes all others; it’s a universe of its own, comprising all time and space – it’s eternal.” God has loved you from all eternity and has chosen you for your particular life; moreover, He grants you sufficient grace to fulfill your duties in love.
Never doubt that.