In the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah, the Father promises to those who have strayed that he will “bring them back”—they will return to their original purpose in God’s creative design. When God creates, he calls. And when his creation strays, he calls it back. Vocation begins at birth. In fact, vocation begins at conception.
Reading 1 JER 31:7-9
Thus says the LORD:
Shout with joy for Jacob,
exult at the head of the nations;
proclaim your praise and say:
The LORD has delivered his people,
the remnant of Israel.
Behold, I will bring them back
from the land of the north;
I will gather them from the ends of the world,
with the blind and the lame in their midst,
the mothers and those with child;
they shall return as an immense throng.
They departed in tears,
but I will console them and guide them;
I will lead them to brooks of water,
on a level road, so that none shall stumble.
For I am a father to Israel,
Ephraim is my first-born.
In Sacred Scripture the words for creation and calling both refer to a divine action of God that orders creatures to fulfill their purposes. He creates nothing without calling it to a purpose. And when God creates a person, He calls that person to the original “word” that spoke him into existence.
Catholic theology, dating back to Saint Irenaeus in the second century, refers to the circular movement of vocation as the exitus-reditus, or “going forth” and “returning” of all created things to their source in God. Aquinas described this using the image of rivers returning to their source. Augustine, in his Confessions, described it as an inward movement that was accomplished through memory and the interior journey back to the source of his existence.
The exitus-reditus is important because it means that each person is already called by virtue of his creation. Each person is called to be a unique imago Dei to reflect and express something of God that no other creature can. “Each finite creature can reflect only a fraction of the divine nature,” wrote Edith Stein. “Thus, in the diversity of His creatures, God’s infinity, unity and oneness appear to be broken into an effulgence of manifold rays.”
Although vocation begins at creation, baptism is necessary and essential. It is the only way to accomplish the return to the Father. It unites us to Christ and his body, the Church, and allows us to share in his three-fold ministry of priest, prophet, and king. We are led to baptism in the first place because we (or someone who loves us, like our parents) have immersed us in the stream of the reditus through the divine call that began at creation.
We can learn an important truth from this relationship between creation and vocation: Neglecting our created nature is detrimental to following, or even discovering, a vocation. Because grace perfects nature, it is essential to understand the nature to which God’s call is addressed.
Each of us is a unique creation. Each of us has a unique call. The key is knowing how they are connected. The place where a person hears God’s call is the same place where he hears the words of Psalm 2: “You are my Son: this day I have begotten you.”