When we hear the word vocation, many of us within the Church will think about a calling to the priesthood or religious life, to married life, or maybe to a particular job or profession. These are what Silvana Scarfe, from Proclaim: The Office for Mission Renewal, calls ‘state-in-life’ and professional vocations. And while they’re certainly very important aspects of vocation, she says that if we truly want to understand our personal vocation, we should think more broadly.
Each one of us—with our individual gifts and talents—has a part to play in God’s mission: ‘God has willed and wants each person to play a vital role in the grand story of salvation,’ she says.
The role we are called to in that mission will be different for each person: ‘We've all been willed into existence by God,’ Silvana explains. ‘He wanted us to exist, and that’s why we exist. I'm not like anyone who’s ever existed before. So if the Lord has made us so unique and unrepeatable, then the mission that he’s given is also unique and unrepeatable. He’s given me talents and gifts that only I will have in exactly the way that they are in my life, and I will exercise those talents in a unique way, just as you will, as part of God’s mission.‘
According to Silvana, that’s what personal vocation is. Our state-in-life and our profession vocations are important aspects of our broader purposes on this earth, but they are not the whole story. ‘God wants us to work with him, for his glory, to help us flourish and fulfill that unique calling that he’s placed us on this earth to do.’
When we realise that we each have an important and unique role to play, there are a number of ways that we can begin to discover and live our personal vocations, says Silvana.
Of the three central aspects of vocation—relationship, identity and mission—she says that relationship always comes first: ‘Everything is at the service of relationship with God … Once we get relationship right, then we’re going to understand who we are. From our baptism, we are beloved sons and daughters of the Lord, with a responsibility to live a life of mission. He equips us with the graces necessary to do that.’
According to Silvana, cultivating a strong relationship with God always begins with prayer. ‘Any good relationship has to start with time, effort and intention—even more so with the Lord,’ says Silvana.
‘Prayer is the foundation of that relationship. The communication lines have to be open for us to be able to discern anything, to understand who he is, understand his heart, understand why he created us, why he loves us … The more we understand him, the more we can understand ourselves.’
Silvana encourages the young people she works with to be really intentional about prayer—both structured prayer and mental prayer—‘just time sitting with the Lord conversing with him and being with him, and spending time in Scripture, trying to understand his heart and what he wants to say to us.’
The sacraments also play a vital role, according to Silvana, who likens frequent attendance at Confession and reception of Holy Communion to an infusion of grace, helping us ‘to walk by faith and not by sight’.
‘As often as we can, [we should] go to Mass and to confession; we should seek the Lord. He’s there waiting for us.’
Another important way to discover and live out your personal vocation, Silvana says, is to find and surround yourself with others ‘who are on the same journey … who are living a life that pursues and seeks the Lord as well. We can’t do life alone. We need other people, and we can’t live a Christian life in the world by ourselves.’
To accompany us in the task of discerning our vocation, including our state-of-life vocation, it’s particularly important to find people that we trust. ‘Whether it’s a priest, a spiritual director, religious sisters, a trusted mentor—talk to them and have conversations around your openness to discerning the Lord’s will,’ she advises. ‘We have to be open first and foremost.’ These people can help us think about the things that might be preventing us from being open to each of the state-of-life vocations, for instance. And counsellors and psychologists can help us work through things like childhood wounds that might prevent us from truly following our calling.
As she has worked with young people to help them discover and live out their personal vocations, Silvana says she has also ‘grown in understanding who I am, who God’s created me to be. I think often we define ourselves by something we’ve achieved, or we look to other people for our identity, but we have to look at our identity with God. In my journey, understanding that I’m a beloved daughter of the Lord was a huge turning point in my life.’
Being able to bring that insight to her work with young adults and articulate it from her own experience has brought about a number of ‘light bulb’ moments—‘it’s like a light gets turned on in people’s minds.’
It’s work that brings her great joy—‘seeing the work of grace in these young people, seeing how the Lord’s calling each of them in their own unique way.’ She feels privileged ‘to be able to witness that and to see the confidence that they have, knowing who they are and who God’s created them to be, and that they have a mission, they have a calling.’
VMCH11 December 2023
Melbourne Catholic08 December 2023