A call addressed to some of the baptized
Vita Consecrata traces the evangelical origin of consecrated life in the special relationship Jesus established with some of his disciplesduring his earthly life. Though all are called to holiness and become sons/daughters of God and sharers in the divine nature (LG 40a), the holiness of the Church is fostered in a special way by the observance of evangelical counsels as a gift given by the Father to certain souls(LG 39, 42c, VC 18, 29.). All the baptized are called to holiness and perfection, but baptismal consecration does not necessarily include the call to live evangelical counsels (VC.30).
The call to consecrated life is addressed to some people whom Christ invitesto share his experience. You will find more expressions that highlighting this choice aspect of consecrated life as the following:
- “not given to everyone” (VC 30),
- “those whom he has chosen” (VC 17b),
- “those who are called” (VC 15b, SAFC 20. 27),
- “of some, those called to consecrated life” (VC 18a, 64b, 73, 100, SAFC 15,),
- “those called to leave everything “ (VC 40b),
- “if he has called” (VC 107),
- “the person called” (RD 8).
Certainly consecrated life is not meant for any and every person who finds it attractive, but to some of the baptized whom the Lord calls. Participation in the life of Christ through baptismal consecration is a condition for the special way of maturing in that consecration through consecrated life. From among the baptized some are called to embrace “the form of life Jesus chose for himself”.
In the Gospels we see Jesus calling “those whom he wanted to be with him and to be sent out to proclaim the Word” (Mk 3:14). When some of his followers left him (Jn 6:.66 ), Jesus clearly stated that only those whom the father draws could follow him (6:43, 65). Consecrated life which entails closer following of the style of Jesus’ life makes sense only for those who are called to embrace it and those who choose to respond to it freely.
Who are those called by the Lord?
Looking at the group of people Jesus gathered around him, we do not find any ‘human’ logic guiding his selection process. Probably many of his disciples would have failed the screening tests to enter the dioceses and congregations, if they were to attempt them today. To an onlooker Jesus disciples might have looked an incompatible team of strange characters: a tax collector and a Pharisee, a doubter an impetuous fisherman, a timid youth and even a cheat who eventually betrayed him. He nicknamed two of them as “sons of thunder” (Mk 3:17 ) and another “rock” (Mt16:18). None of them could stand with him in the time of his trial as “they all deserted him and fled” (Mk 14:50).
There were not many accomplished and prestigious men or women among the larger group of Jesus’ followers except a very few like Luke (a doctor) and Nathanael (a Rabbi). Jesus’ project of life was not attractive to the powerful (Herodians) and learned (Scribes) in the society of his time. When a demoniac who was healed of his evil spirits asked Jesus to be allowed to follow him, Jesus would not let him (Mk 5: 18-19). When a rich young man came to Jesus with his burning questions on the purpose of life, Jesus invited him to follow him closely and let him free to respond. But the young man chose to return with sadness rather than embracing the call and its consequences for himself (Mt 19:22). Indeed Jesus followers could make no special claims other than the appeal of his life to explain their act of risking life with him.
The choice of the Lord is not based on the merit of those who were called. St. Paul explains it beautifully when he says,
“Look and see whom God has called. Few among you can be said to be cultured and wealthy, and few belong to noble families. Yet God has chosen what the world considers weak to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:26-27).
Mary’s song that describes the understanding of her own call affirms that it is purely God’s gaze upon her lowliness and that it is God who has done great things for her (Lk 1: 48-49). Divine gaze with an appeal to follow Jesus’ form of life falls on those whom God has pleased to call. It is purely the logic of the heavens which the heart of those who are called understands even when their reason resists to comprehend. It is when a person is turned to the silence of the heart that he/she can hear the call of the master. In a noisy world when a human heart is after the lures of the world, it may not hear the call even when one has been residing long in a religious community.
Listen to Vocational stories
You will find the fascinating logic of God when you listen to vocational stories of the consecrated men and women. It is difficult to find a coherent reason that connects these stories except what many of the older religious report about their vocation as a ‘pure gift of grace on an unworthy person’. Here are some of the general observations about religious vocations.
– People from all walks of life and all professions have heard the call to embrace consecrated life. Most of them come from lowly backgrounds, though you may also find at times film stars, professional players, doctors, engineers, pilots, lawyers and other professionals among them. You may even find people from sex-related professions after an encounter with the mystery of True Love in an encounter with the Risen Lord.
– Most of the vacationers enter formation program for consecrated life with mixed and even mundane motivations, but they discover their call in the course of formation. A good number even found the deeper meaning of consecrated life when they were “broken” through crisis events after their final profession.
– There are interesting paradoxes of people who joined with a radical choice (For example, only one child of a family even against parental wishes), but left frustrated as their idealism clashed with limitations of reality. There are others who entered consecrated life apparently without genuine religious motives (for example, in order to study or to escape family situations), but eventually discovered their call and found meaning and love in their consecrated life.
– Motivations for joining consecrated life often undergo drastic changes in course of time as the person grows in age and maturity. Only a genuine experience of the call of God in one’s life can support a joyful consecrated life, even though one can limp through consecrated life owing to the pressure of personal situations and social environment.
How do you know you are one of those few called by the Lord?
In the light of the above considerations about religious vocation, you will naturally find that there are usually no supernatural interventions to communicate the call of God to a person. How does then a person come to know if he/she is truly called to consecrated life? The murmur of God’s call can be heard in the stillness and silence (of the cave) of the heart (Cf. 1 Kgs 19: 12-13; Ps 46:10). Since the human heart is often tumultuous amidst the cares of the world, God’s gentle call is stamped in the very being of the person. It can be deciphered by being attentive to the signs offered by the life of the person. Here are few of the vocational pointers and counter signs:
- An inner attraction or enchantment for the person of Jesus which may be expressed in the love for the Word of God, Gospel values, personal prayer or other spiritual realities.
- Progressive disenchant for worldly things and public applause.
- Increasing willingness to forgo one’s own comfort and pleasures to have the joy of meeting the needs of others especially the weak and unloved in one’s group or social context.
- Comfort and ease within oneself at a deeper level even amidst crisis moments as if the heart knows where it belongs, though reason and passions have yet to discover it.
- External pressures or non-religious reasons (for example, the need to fulfill the desire of parents) to continue in religious life.
- Continued absence of any enchantment for the person of Jesus, Gospel values, personal prayer and/or other spiritual concerns
- Continued inner discomfort and restlessness within oneself at the prospect of a lifelong commitment in consecrated life.
- Enduring incapacity to break off from the lure of worldly things.
Whatever be the joining motivation, the motivation to continue in religious life needs to transcend mundane motives. The intelligence of the heart supported by the indications of everyday life testify to the voice of God experienced as joy and love in the heart of the person called.
Relevance for formation
Frist of all, as the ground of consecrated life is baptismal consecration, consecrated life can only be built on the foundations of baptismal consecration and the consequent belongingness to Christ. Hence deficits in basic catechism and Christian faith experience adversely affect further “development of the baptismal consecration into a radical response in the following of Christ through acceptance of the evangelical counsels”. How much attention do we give to experiential faith formation in the formation program for consecrated life? A formation process built on shallow faith experience will form “little monsters” out of naïve girls and boys on whom the Lord has cast his loving gaze.
Secondly as it is a call, the recipient needs to “listen “ to the call and make a free response to the one who makes the call. It requires then that the formation program should be able to help formees to fine tune their interior life to be awakened to the call to “special intimacy” with the Lord proper to consecrated life and learn to respond freely.
Thirdly, as it is a call gifted to a few, only those who are truly called will be able to reciprocate and accept this form of life as one’s unique vocation in life. Any amount of human effort to initiate and persevere in consecrated life is of no avail without having been called to embrace it. Therefore, discernment should be integral to the formative processes. Even when a person chooses to live in a religious habit, his/her heart will know the truth of the call.
Consecrated life is not about taking account of gains and losses, of reckoning of sins and virtues in order to present to the Lord at the end to get a heavenly reward. It is a matter of the heart, of a divine love affair, being called to follow the beloved of the soul. It is then about dancing in joy, celebrating life and love, together with our brothers and sisters and all creation with the Lord who dwells at the center.
Make a list of the signs in your story of vocational growth that confirm the call of the Lord in your life. What makes you consider them as signs of vocation?
How do you tune to the intelligence of your heart? What does it mean to you, “follow your heart”?
– Mathew Vattamattam cmf
 Cf. VC 18b. Note also other expressions such as “not given to everyone” (VC 30), “those whom he has chosen” (VC 17b), “those who are called” (VC 15b, SAFC 20. 27), “of some, those called to consecrated life” (VC 18a, 64b, 73, 100, SAFC 15,), “those called to leave everything “ (VC 40b), “if he has called” (VC 107), “the person called” (RD 8).