What is a vocation? Vocation has been called “an unnecessary mystery.” Both aspects of the phrase are important: vocation is unnecessary because it arises from God’s totally gratuitous love for each individual human person, and a mystery because it touches the heart of the individual response to God, the way in which an individual lives in the light of grace.
But the best place to turn for an understanding of vocation is Lumen gentium, Vatican II’s document on the Church, where the meaning of vocation is explored in a particularly rich way. In that document we read:
Fortified by so many and such powerful means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect (LG 11).
From this we learn two important truths: first, that God calls all the Christian faithful to the perfection of holiness; and second, that all the faithful have a condition or state.
How these two are related becomes clear in the following passage: “All the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state” (LG 42). Read in harmony with the previous passage, we see that “state” and “vocation” or “calling” are not identical, but they are related; namely, that God calls everyone to the same vocation, which is “perfect holiness,” but that each person lives out that one vocation by means of a “state of life” that possesses its own proper mode of striving for perfection.
A state of life, then, touches the deepest reality of an individual’s free response to God, and cannot be coerced or confused with a merely natural trade or career; it is the stable mode by which the individual responds to God’s call to holiness, the determining pattern to his Christian existence.
By a kind of colloquial shorthand, the “state of life” of which Lumen gentium speaks is what Catholics often mean when speaking of “vocation,” taking as a given that the one common vocation is holiness and moving on to the practical question of how I individually am going to live out that one call: as a priest, a friar, a monk, a married man, etc. But as we look at the various states of life, we are best able to see their individual ways of sharing in both the Cross and the Resurrection if we remember that each of the vocations in the plural is an irreducibly unique, unnecessary, and mysterious response to the one vocation in the singular, the one call that God extends to all: holiness, eternal life with Him.
The information on this page pertains especially to one form of the religious vocation, the Dominican Order, with two modes: priests and cooperator brothers. These brief essays and FAQs are not complete expositions of the meaning of the Dominican vocation, of course, but are signposts indicating the way Dominicans travel.
For those interested in learning more, the best way to figure out what it means to be a Dominican is to observe Dominicans in action; in addition to meeting Dominicans in your area, where that is possible, news about and original preaching by the Dominicans of the Province of St. Joseph can be found at the provincial website opeast.org, and the blog run by the student brothers at the Dominican House of Studies, dominicanablog.com, with history and details about the province available at dominicanfriars.org. Those interested in yet more are welcome to contact the vocations director at firstname.lastname@example.org.