Note: Nov. 7-13 is National Vocation Awareness Week.
By Kristi Bivens
It is quite the word. It conjures up so many thoughts and feelings for me. Growing up Catholic, it is a word that I have heard a lot. At first, it was very narrowly defined: priesthood or religious life. As I got older, the conversations turned from simply a definition to a question. Did I have a vocation?
For most of my childhood, I was surrounded by “vocation.” My parents had many friends who were priests or members of religious communities. My hometown had two different women’s religious communities. In fact, when I was a teenager, three religious sisters moved into the house across the street from us. We referred to them affectionately as the “tons of nuns” (thank my little brother for that). They were such great neighbors to have! The Catholic school I attended was mostly staffed by religious sisters. My favorite hangout was the local public library, whose head librarian was a religious sister. When I was a junior in high school, my dad was ordained a permanent deacon and went to work for the Church full time. Vocation was everywhere.
When it was time to start thinking about college and what I wanted to do with my life, the Church was not far from my thoughts. By this time, the Church had expanded the idea of vocation to include marriage and, on occasion, single life. The other thing that I started to hear more was the word “call.” Are you being called to the priesthood, religious life, etc.? I had been very involved in my church, and it was one of the few places I felt confident in using my gifts. That vocation question was still in the back of my mind — how did it play into my plans? I knew I wanted to do something for the Church, but what could I do if I wasn’t a religious sister?
I chose a Catholic college because I knew I wanted to stay connected to the Church, even though I wasn’t sure how or what that meant. During the first year, I vacillated between a major in theology, so I could be a youth minister, and a major in elementary education. I finally decided on elementary education, but doing something for the Church was still in the back of my mind. Over the four years, I had experiences in public schools and Catholic schools and quickly discovered that the experiences in Catholic school felt right to me. I was sure it was where I wanted to teach after I graduated. That is what I did, and through teaching, I served the Church. But that vocation question was still there. Did I have a vocation?
As I got older, it became apparent to me that I did not have a vocation. I was not being called to religious life or marriage. Perhaps single life was my vocation? But then there was much debate in the Church about whether single life was a vocation or not. And, then, did I truly feel “called” to single life? I really began to struggle with vocation. What was my place in the Church if I did not have a vocation?
While I was teaching, I became involved in RCIA in my parish, working closely with the pastoral associate who directed it. She began to encourage me to take advantage of opportunities for my own faith formation, and I loved it! I loved learning more and more about my faith and my Church. This led to a larger role with RCIA, and eventually she asked me if I had ever thought about going back to school to study theology. It was not something I had ever thought about. If I were going to graduate school, it would be in education. The more we talked, the more theology seemed to be where I was being called. So, I quit teaching and worked for three years on my master of divinity degree. I loved it! I knew God was calling me to this. There was that word again: call. But I was still trying to figure out what my vocation was.
I have spent my entire adult life in ministry in the Catholic Church — eight years in Catholic schools, 10 years in parish ministry, and I am just starting my fourth year in diocesan ministry. It has taken me this long to figure out that I do have a vocation. (I hope by this time you are wondering what I have decided.) Religious life? No, and I have known that for a long time. Marriage? Doesn’t seem to be it. Single life? I am single, so I guess it could be. But it is not where I feel God’s call the strongest.
My call has been to ministry in the Church; however, “church ministry” was not on the list of possible vocations I was given as a teenager. It may not have made “the list,” but the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (“Lumen Gentium”) from the Second Vatican Council tells me I do have a vocation: “The laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven” (31).
This is exactly what I do. My vocation is as a lay minister who works in service to the Church and the world. Through all the positions that I have ministered, God has called me to this work.
I recently heard a priest talking about praying for vocations. He said he did not pray solely for priestly vocations, but he prayed for the vocations that the Church needs. I loved this, but for me it is even bigger than this. When I pray for vocations, I pray for the needs of the Church, but also, I pray that every person may find their call. That every person may know what God is calling them to — whether it be priesthood or religious life or marriage or lay ministry or banking or health care. That what they do be a call from God to be in service to the Church and the world.
Kristi Bivens is the associate director of lay formation for the Diocese of St. Cloud.
Photo: Dianne Towalski/The Central Minnesota Catholic