Russell Shaw: A Prophetic Voice for Personal Vocation

ByLuke Burgis
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Russell Shaw was one of the first Catholics to highlight the importance of personal vocation and has done so consistently for over 25 years. In this podcast, Shaw discusses how the paradigm of personal vocation is essential for helping laypersons realize their proper place as builders of God’s Kingdom on earth and for eliminating clericalism which emphasizes “vocation” as primarily a state of life for priests and religious.

The cancer of clericalism – which Shaw refers to as clerical elitism – stunts the Church. It stifles laity from flourishing in their own callings. It degrades clerics who are treated as functionaries of the priestly state of life, not as unique persons. It undermines the co-responsibility that all Catholics have for advancing the mission of the Church.  Shaw’s emphasis – grounded in Church teaching – that personal vocation is an antidote to clericalism and a way of renewal was prophetic 25 years ago and is even more timely now that the Church is mired in crisis.

In the podcast we discuss:

  • Shaw’s close collaboration with Germain Grisez with whom he wrotePersonal Vocation: God Calls Everyone By Nameand other works.  
  • the meaning of personal vocation and its relationship to other ways that the word “vocation” is used
  • the dynamic nature of personal vocation and how it unfolds over time
  • the blessing and challenge of constant discernment required to fully respond to God’s call.

A final point from Shaw – that I found strangely comforting – is for those of us both hungry for renewal and used to the rapid-fire cause and effect of our digital age.  Change happens slowly in the Catholic Church, he says.  Although Catholics increasingly see the value of personal vocation it will take time, perhaps a long while, before it is fully embraced.  We must persevere in teaching it, but be patient.

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