In this issue Id y Evangelizad (Go and Evangelize), we approach vocation (etymologically, call) from a double perspective. On the one hand, vocation is the assumption of a project that precedes and constitutes us; seen in this way it is one of the axes of correct anthropology. On the other hand, the vocation of state (differentiated into apostolic ministry, laity, and special consecration), as is usually presented in the Catholic Church.
These two dimensions of vocation are today not only questioned but also rejected or ignored. And this is one of the causes of the current theological-religious, cultural, and social crisis we are experiencing. Therefore, it is vital to take up again – in line with the Tradition of the Church – vocation as something nuclear in anthropology and evangelization. The first step is to clarify concepts and purify false conceptions.
Regarding the first perspective, we cannot insist enough that we can only be authentically free persons and societies if we recognize ourselves as beings that spring – out of pure love – from the Being who gives us consistency and mission, beings who are the fruit of divine solidarity and of the generations that precede us; the fruit of sacrifice and the good shared anonymously. On the other hand, since the 16th century, with the cultural predominance of humanism and Protestantism, the culture of make yourself has been accentuated, which today adopts such absurd forms as empowerment understood as self-sufficiency, «I owe nothing to anyone» or «I have achieved everything by my effort».
As for the second perspective, which concerns the different states of life of Christians, there is a bewilderment, that consists in equating the three states of life (apostolic ministry – priests and bishops -, laity – including marriage – and special consecration – religious and consecrated virgins) as if they were ontologically similar and thus interchangeable so that whatever one baptized person can do, any other baptized person could do.
Photo: «Let the weapons be silent, let the cry for peace of the poor, of the people, of the children be heard! War does not solve any problem, it only sows death and destruction. Hatred increases revenge multiplies. War erases the future» (Pope Francis, General Audience 10-18-2023)
Thus, for example, the priest could marry like the laity, the laity could replace the bishop or the pope in their magisterial sphere and the clergy could lead the laity in their political, social, and cultural work; women could accede to the apostolic ministry. In this perspective, the fact that they are not interchangeable functions is due to mere historical conditioning factors.
The reality is different: baptism, confirmation, and priestly ordination change the being of those who receive them because they imprint a character, that is to say, the irreversible and unrepeatable spiritual seal that configures the person in a particular way to the priesthood of Christ, both as a positive disposition before grace and for the fulfillment of certain functions according to his state in life (Catechism, no. 1121). The Eucharist, too, as the diachronic configuration of the Christian faithful to the Son of God, brings about a continuous change in the being of the one who receives it; this sacrament contains all the spiritual good of the Church (Presbiterorum Ordinis 5) and is, therefore, the source and summit of the Christian life (Lumen Gentium 11).
In this sense, it is more correct to affirm that the primary state vocations are the baptismal vocation (vocation to holiness and justice, in the words of Guillermo Rovirosa and Julián Gómez del Castillo) and the apostolic ministry (which is acquired in priestly orders). The laity (including the married state) and the special consecration, insofar as they do not change the being acquired by baptism, are concretizations of the way of living the essential vocation, that of the sacrament of Christian initiation.
Starting from this philosophical-theological clarity is essential to get out of the quagmire in which many are stuck, as has been seen in some of the debates surrounding the Synod on synodality: clericalism, the power of the laity in the Church, the access of women to the priesthood, etc., thus proposing false solutions to the fundamental problems that the Church is currently experiencing: abolition of celibacy, liberal democracy in ecclesial government, etc.
Not only are these false solutions, but they also divert our attention from the real problem at hand, which is none other than living out of holiness (whether amid secular realities or in the exercise of apostolic ministry). It is necessary to take up once again – as Vatican II proposes – both the primacy of Christian initiation and the ontological-ministerial specificity (sacra potestas) of the sacrament of Holy Orders, in complementarity with the ordinary priesthood of the faithful (Lumen Gentium 10 b). It is a matter of continually returning to the paschal Church, which refers us back to baptism and to the apostles who make it possible. This is the way out of the false and demagogic debates that seek to confront ecclesial vocations.
Photo: «Let the weapons be silent, let the cry for peace of the poor, of the people, of the children be heard! War does not solve any problem, it only sows death and destruction. Hatred increases revenge multiplies. War erases the future»
(Pope Francis, General Audience 10-18-2023)