Pastoral Empowerment through Personal Vocation

ByLuke Burgis
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Although personal vocation was identified by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council and taught by the popes since that council as an important part of formation, the practice of actually cultivating it among clergy and laity remains on the periphery of Church life. Combating clericalism requires a robust understanding of personal vocation.

A culture of clericalism, explicitly named by Pope Francis as a major cause of the current crisis in the Church, remains endemic. In this context, vocation as “state in life” is the dominant paradigm. Although Church leaders certainly note the value of marriage and the possibility of being called to it, the state most emphasized is the consecrated life. Thus, every diocese has a “Vocations Office” with “Vocations Directors” whose job is to cultivate priests for the diocese. The “World Day of Prayer for Vocations” and much of the intercession related to vocation offered in churches around the world is ordered toward an increase in priests and religious. Seldom is attention given to the critical role of the laity in sanctifying the world through their particular gifts.

The blame for clericalism and a preferential emphasis on vocations to the priesthood and religious life should not be laid exclusively at the feet of clerics. Lay people have equal responsibility.

There are several detrimental effects that a clericalist culture with its an emphasis on vocation as state of life and its preference for the priestly or religious state has upon the Church. For now, I note only two that specifically relate to pastoral empowerment.
First, in a clericalist context, the unique personhood of the pastor can be veiled by all the expectations laid upon him by Church leaders and laymen to function according to standard priestly norms. Pressure on pastors to subordinate their personality and conform to an ideal priestly model can be suffocating and lead to depression, burn out, flight from the priesthood or worse. At the same time, the unique gifts of the priest can remain undeveloped and underutilized, which is loss for himself and his flock.

Second, all those millions of unrepeatable personal vocations and all of the unique gifts of lay people remain unnamed, uncultivated, barren. This is tragic. The very renewal of the Church, as the introductory quote from John Paul II declares, depends upon the fostering of each one’s “single, unique, and unrepeatable” vocation. And, up to now, such intentional cultivation is a rare exception. How many Catholic high schools, colleges, or parishes do you know that emphasize personal vocation as a central part of formation? And when the gifts of the laity remain unrecognized and undeveloped, pastoral empowerment remains anemic.

Effective pastoral leadership is not simply about the strengthening and utilization of the priest’s gifts, but implies a context where laity fully recognize their own baptismal call to holiness, their vital participation in Christ’s three fold mission of priest, prophet and king and co-responsibility with their pastors (in their own legitimate spheres of activity) to build up God’s kingdom.

Concluding Word about Personal Vocation and Renewal

In his inaugural letter to the Church, The Redeemer of Man, Pope Saint John Paul II writes beautifully about Christ uniting himself to each human person in his life, death, and resurrection. Since loving attentiveness to each person was and is Christ’s way, it must also our way: each unique and unrepeatable human person “is the primary and fundamental way of the Church.”

He also makes clear that this “way” for the Church is each one’s personal vocation for that is the only path for each one’s authentic fulfillment and the flourishing of the whole Body of Christ. True renewal depends upon the cultivation of personal vocation. Let’s make it so in our program of pastoral empowerment.

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