Vocation has two-fold fundamental dimensions: on one hand, every vocation implies a personal conversion; on the other hand, a vocation is always linked to a mission.
When we think of vocation as a challenge to discern and to live, without realizing it, we are led by countless questions: “What for? In what way? Who do you help? What are the risks? Who pays the expenses and how will they do it?” (Laudato Si’, n. 185). Everything seems to act as an obstacle and the questions pile up and often appear associated with a feeling of guilt: “Why do I have to be different? Couldn’t I wish to be the same as everyone else?”
Vocation presents itself as something specific and special for every human being, who is unique. From this perspective, vocation appears to be something linked to individualism. However, nothing could be further from reality. Vocation, being personal, is never individualistic or collective, it is always unique and with a community dimension.
In addition to this personal – community sense, the vocation itself has fundamental dimensions that are transversal to all human fulfilment: on one hand, every vocation implies a personal conversion; on the other hand, a vocation is always linked to a mission.
Sometimes, we associate and assume the word conversion with a set of rites, practices and/or a series of behaviours. However, talking about conversion is going further! Conversion cannot be confused with something imposed, nor as something extrinsic to human beings. It does not consist of a given behaviour at a given time or circumstance, but an authenticity of life. In this sense, conversion cannot be understood from an ethical level, but from the sense of personal existence/accomplishment and the authenticity of the human essence.
The first conversion to which the human being is called during vocational discernment is the conversion to what the person truly is. Here, converting means pushing away the “ghosts,” the illusions and whims that often cloud our vision and/or blind us to our own essence. The central importance of vocation accompaniment is when the accompanying person helps us free ourselves from the chains that we are going through, out of our fear or pride, and applying it on our image. Converting to the reality of who we are is, therefore, a first step, common to every vocation.
The second step in conversion is linked to coherence: coherence of life – so that there is no division between what we are and what we want to be to live authentically – and effective coherence between what we say and what we do.
This last aspect opens up a vast range of dimensions to consider. In a more immediate sense, the coherence between what we say about ourselves and what we dream for ourselves and what we do/live in our daily lives. On the other hand, this consistency implies that the professed faith is a lived reality and not just words. Now, in either case, conversion becomes coherent, something that is in no way confused with behavioural automatisms, but with the truth and authenticity of life.
Conversion exists as a path traversed each day and not as something definitive that occurs at a certain point in life, which remains forever. Despite having an enormous personal dimension, insofar as it is based on the essence of who we are, conversion is never an end in itself.
It is always associated with a mission, with a gift of love that becomes fruitful and life-giving for the world–only in this way can one speak of personal fulfilment, the fullness of life, and true happiness. For this very reason, Pope Francis does not fail to invite “all Christians to explain this dimension of their conversion, allowing the strength and light of grace received to extend also to the relationship with other creatures and with the world around them” (Laudato Si’, n. 221).
As far as the vocational mission is concerned, we must also understand the meaning of mission – this too is unique and specific to each person. It meets the authenticity of the human being, and, in this sense, it is inseparable from the path of conversion. The vocational mission will embody and manifest the truth that resides in the heart of each one, in which the vocation is mirrored, making it visible to all.
A vocation becomes a gift as the mission is carried out. The mission highlights what the person is, what he believes in, and what gives meaning to his existence. Without a mission, vocational desire and discernment would never know their consummation and fullness.
In missionary activity, all forms of vocation meet, since “living the vocation of guardians of God’s work is not something optional or a secondary aspect of Christian experience, but an essential part of a virtuous existence” (Laudato Si’, n. 217). Therefore, the resulting mission that makes the vocation materialize implies, more than an option to “do something,” the experience of authentic spirituality that, through love/charity, enables the integral maturation and sanctification of the human being in its entirety.
By understanding vocation as an act of authentic love, it becomes possible to understand better the scope and importance of conversion and mission in the vocational journey. In love, one manages to overcome the challenges that present themselves whenever one tries to live in total coherence of life. It is also in it that the mission – however specific it may be – becomes fruitful and a gift for all humanity. Vocation becomes, therefore, a spiral of happiness in which the coherence of life is increasingly manifested: in what we think, say, and do.
Trying to live a vocation without these two dimensions is to confine and restrict the truth of the human essence and, consequently, mutilate the human being, his happiness, and the meaning of his existence. We do not take this vocational path alone. Instead, “the great wealth of Christian spirituality, which comes from twenty centuries of personal and community experiences, makes a magnificent contribution to the effort to renew humanity.” (Laudato Si’, n. 216).
Thus, from those who propose to go through a process of vocational discernment, there will always be a wider range: the companion who helps in the discernment, the community where vocational growth takes place, and all those who, in one way or another, help as the vocation matures. They contribute to vocation becoming a reality that emerges and manifests itself as the culmination of a path of conversion – always in progress – and the fulfilment of the inherent mission. (Susana Vilas Boas)