Repeatability can be a source of great comfort. Instant replay ensures that we never have to miss a great sporting moment. Digital music has a “repeat” button so we can listen to the same song as many times as we’d like. And if we lose our iPhone, Apple will gladly sell us another one exactly like it. Repeatable things can make life easier and more secure. The downside is—much as familiarity breeds contempt—repeatability can easily lead to presumption, tepidity, nonchalance.
Unrepeatability, on the other hand, is a serious thing. We experience the gravity of certain moments—a marriage proposal, a live performance, an important speech—in part because we know they will never happen again. There are no do-overs. Our vocations, indeed our lives, are unrepeatable, each with its own purpose in the world. Other people are relying on us to do something that nobody else can. Recall the cave divers who rescued the soccer team from the Tham Luang cave in Thailand; each of the trapped boys counted on the diver assigned to him to carry out their particular missions. Unrepeatable things characterize the highest and noblest realities in life, and they should evoke holy fear.
If people today lack holy fear when faced with their futures, it might be because we have sanitized the idea of vocation and don’t fully grasp the unrepeatability of each person’s call. Catholics commonly use the word “vocation” to refer to a “state in life,” the universal call to holiness, and perhaps even to a field of work. These are important aspects of vocation, but they do not capture the wonder of divine specificity: God created each person with a unique and unrepeatable vocation in mind.
It is one thing for a man to know that if he rejects a call to the priesthood that God will continue to call priests; it is quite another thing for him to know that God cannot and will not ever call another priest to do what he was called to do. Each life is a vocation for which there is no substitute. This is the rich reality of personal vocation.