What is the best vocation?
That’s a trick question. Of course, the best vocation is the vocation God calls us to.
But is any vocation—objectively speaking—a higher or better calling than the others? This is a fascinating question that has been hotly debated through the ages. Especially in the Middle Ages, where people were preoccupied with order and hierarchy of importance even in spiritual matters, consecrated life was sometimes described as a higher calling. At least since the Council of Trent (and even in Saint Paul’s letters), various Church documents state that consecrated life should be considered a “higher” calling: living the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience is the closest way to imitate Jesus during his life on earth. Living these evangelical counsels also prepares us to anticipate eternal life in heaven.
Personally, it seems to me that if any vocation could be considered a “higher” calling, it would be priesthood, because the priest celebrates the Eucharist every day. However, most comparisons are between religious life versus either married life or diocesan priesthood. Even recent documents refer to the “objective superiority” of the consecrated lifestyle that more clearly and closely reflects Christ’s way of life while here on earth. (You can check out St. John Paul II’s Consecrated Life, paragraph #32). In many ways, it’s helpful to highlight the beauty and importance of consecrated life because it is a more hidden vocation, and marriage is the vocation we are all inclined to. Even those called to religious life may sometimes not consider religious life unless they receive special encouragement.
However, all of this discussion about the “higher” calling is academic at best, and for some it can be deceptive. Idealistic young people might be tempted to search for the “best” vocation, and can make a superficial conclusion that they should follow the “highest” calling—consecrated life—simply out of a desire to be the best.
All of us want to live the “best” vocation. We need to remember:
- Objectively, a “higher” vocation is different from which vocation is subjectively the best for us. (There’s even a difference between the meaning of the words, “higher calling,” and “best calling,” but we won’t go into that here.)
- While striving for excellence and greater closeness to Christ is praiseworthy, truly the “best” vocation for each of us is the vocation God calls us to. (Obedience to God is better than the biggest sacrifice. If you need convincing, read 1 Samuel 15:22.)
- All vocations are beautiful; all vocations are calls to great holiness. Each vocation has different graces, challenges, and gifts.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly supports the approach that the best vocation for us is the one God calls us to. The Catechism (CCC) makes it clear that every vocation is not only important and necessary in God’s plan, but that every vocation has equal dignity. In addition, each vocation faithfully lived supports the other vocations. (See The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), #s 871-873.) The Catechism specifically talks about all of the vocations as coming from God, who gives them meaning and gives us the grace to live whichever vocation he has called us to (CCC #1820). Here are a few highlights:
- The priest is to make the presence of Christ visible and to serve the faithful, helping all believers to grow in the grace of their Baptism (CCC #s1536ff).
- Religious life is a more intimate expression of the consecration of our Baptism (CCC #916).
- Marriage is written in our nature as human beings, was created by God and raised to the dignity of a sacrament (CCC #s1601ff).
In our next few posts, we’ll explore some of the general graces, beauties, and challenges of the three vocations of marriage, priesthood, and religious life. The Church offers a lot of resources to reflect on these three, and I’m hoping that highlighting some of the beauty and gifts of each vocation will be helpful for those who are either just beginning their vocational discernment, or are struggling to move forward.
At this point, I couldn’t possibly cover all the variations of vocations, so these are the three I’ll focus on for now. Because the post for each vocation is quite lengthy, I might be posting a little less frequently. Later, or perhaps in my book, I hope to include reflections from individuals who are living each vocation.