The word vocation in earlier days referred to a call to religious life as a priest or a religious sister or brother. This was a very limiting definition. The word itself means a calling. This has wide applications in the lives of all of us, whether we are consecrated, single, or married. As women, we are called to be daughters, sisters, nieces, aunts and mothers in careers such as teachers, nurses, corporate leaders, investment brokers, entrepreneurs, military officers and sports heroes.
These choices expand our opportunities and invite creativity in us and around us. However, is it a call to greatness? Bishop Robert Morneau writes of this call in his Advent reflections of 2014: We are all called to be great; we are all called to holiness. He quotes Aelred Squire’s definition of holiness as doing what our vocation calls us to be, with holiness having two aspects, noting an active fidelity that calls us to be the best we can be. He then mentions a passive fidelity in so far as we accept and suffer with love whatever divine providence sends us. The important word in both aspects is fidelity. Being faithful to the demands of the day, each day, is the recipe for holiness that Bishop Morneau equates with greatness.
This seems a 21st century adaptation of St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s own recipe for holiness. The simplicity of her Little Way is very challenging when we try it. But, in its simplicity, it holds the roadmap for us, too. In her Story of a Soul, she wrote that, Holiness consists in doing His will, in being what He calls us to be.
Once again, Bishop Morneau introduces a new focus when he quotes Jean Sullivan as writing, a vocation is given every morning. Let these words enter your own stillness for a moment. Each day, we are called to be faithful to the demands of the day. Each day, we can see more clearly what these demands ask of us, if we are willing to listen to God’s call to be the best we can be. Will we fail? Probably several times a day. It is humbling to find we continue to make mistakes, some of them the same ones we made yesterday. A 1936 song reminds us to Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.
This path to holiness recognizes that we are capable of deep commitment, and also of honest mistakes and weaknesses that make life difficult now and then. The saving feature of this opportunity is fidelity, that is, finding new ways to return to being faithful without giving in to discouragement. One can hope that it will get easier; however, there are no guarantees. Rather, there are new opportunities to be creative in expressing fidelity with a smile and a song.
An image that may help us understand what we are called to do and be is the flute. The flute is an instrument that brings music to the space around us. The flute, however, is not the song. For the song to be heard, the wood must be hollowed out and notched in order to carry the song. This is the call, the invitation, the opportunity to be present, to be an instrument gladly ready to bring the song. Caryll Houselander reminds us that Our Blessed Mother Mary is a beautiful example of this. She was a reed through which the Eternal Love was to be piped as a shepherd’s song … Our Lady said yes. She said yes for us all … Our Lady said yes for the human race. Each one of us must echo that yes for our own lives.
Bishop Morneau states four elements of our baptismal call:
Houselander, Caryll. The Reed of God. Originally published in 1944. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2006, pp. 21, 35.
Kern, Jerome (composer) and Fields, Dorothy (lyricist). Pick Yourself Up. 1936.
Morneau, Robert F. “February 18: The Holiness of God.” Not By Bread Alone: Daily Reflections for Lent 2013. Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2012, pp. 18-19.
Morneau, Robert F. Waiting in Joyful Hope: Daily Reflections for Advent and Christmas 2014-15. Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2014, pp. 30-31.
Squire, Aelred, OP. Asking the Fathers: The Art of Meditation and Prayer. Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1993, p. 217.
Sullivan, Jean. Eternity, My Beloved. Originally published in France in 1966. International Series, River Boat Books, 1966, p. 10.
Thérèse of Lisieux. Story of a Soul, 3rd ed. Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1996, p.14.