What is a Vocation?
If you are looking for a simple definition of a vocation, the literal meaning of the word is a "call."
But a vocation is more than an ordinary call. A vocation is a call from God, and anyone who has felt God's call knows that the process is anything but simple. While most people think of a vocation as what they are called to do in life, it is important to understand that the first and most important call from God is a call to be - the universal call to holiness.
Vocation vs. Career
Your vocation is not the same as your career or profession. However, there is an overlap between a vocation and a profession.
A career or a profession is something that you have in order to support yourself and to contribute in some way to the good of the society. You don't need to believe in God to choose a career or a profession. A person can pick, choose and switch profession freely depending on his/her preferences, strengths or circumstances. A profession or a career always has a horizontal dimension.
When we talk about vocation, we introduce a vertical dimension in our life, which is God. It is no longer ‘what do I prefer?' but rather ‘What does God want me to be?" A vocation is not something that you can switch like a profession or a career.
For example, a person may work in retail sales because he/she has what it takes to sell a product, to establish customer relations, to follow directions and to work with a team to accomplish daily tasks. That same person's vocation may be to be a single person, a wife or a husband, to be a religious brother or sister, to be a deacon or priest.
This distinction between a call to holiness and a call to a specific vocation - single person, married life, consecrated life or ordained ministry - is important.
The universal call to holiness is rooted in our baptism. It is a call to know, love and serve the Lord. It is a movement that draws us toward a deeper union with God. We feel a growing desire to love God and to love our neighbour. We come to understand that there is a reason for our existence and there is meaning in our lives.
The universal call to holiness is an ongoing conversion experience. It keeps opening our eyes to new awareness of God's loving presence. It keeps inviting us to turn toward God by aligning our will with God's will.
A willingness to do God's will is built on two convictions. We have to believe that God loves us more than we love ourselves and that God wants our happiness more than we want it. In other words, we have to believe that God knows more than we do about what will make us truly happy. If God had given us everything we ever asked for we would be seriously unhappy. The basis of our desire to find and to do the will of God should be the belief that God's will for us is our only chance to be truly and lastingly happy.
"It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal."
- Saint John Paul II