To live one’s vocation is always synonymous with uninstallation, leaving, going out, searching, setting out on a journey, and meeting.
These days, I have been thinking about the words of Pope Francis when he, in the encyclical Fratelli Tutti, speaks of the unique way in which human beings can realize themselves. In the Pope’s words, “human beings are so made that they cannot live, develop, and find fulfillment except in the sincere gift of self to others. Nor can they fully know themselves apart from an encounter with other persons: ‘I communicate effectively with myself only insofar as I communicate with others.’”
“No one can experience the true beauty of life without relating to others, without having real faces to love. This is part of the mystery of authentic human existence. Life exists where there is bonding, communion, and fraternity; life is stronger than death when it is built on true relationships and bonds of fidelity. On the contrary, there is no life when we claim to be self-sufficient and live as islands: in these attitudes, death prevails.”
From the Pope’s reflection, it is clear to me that there are two fundamental points. The first point concerns personal fulfillment, the way we can find the truth that inhabits us and experience an authentic and truly happy life.
The second essential point is the importance of the other person in this whole process. Turning in on oneself is never something that generates life. On the contrary, it is something that breaks any possibility of living authentically from what each one is in the most intimate part of his or her being.
Consequently, “being with others” and taking responsibility for the suffering of others is the engine of the whole possibility of not only living according to what one is but also (and above all) living in the constant realization of what one wants to be.
In this excerpt from the encyclical, it is clear that “finding” and “encountering” are two sides of the same coin, impossible to separate one from the other or to have one without the other. In vocation, using this metaphor of the coin, we also have both sides, and it is in the taking on of both that vocation is discerned and lived out.
Moreover, in vocation, we also find, in a unique and unequivocal way, the presence of the precious metal where the two sides of the coin are inscribed. This metal is each person but the preciousness it presents is a gift from God. It is also important not to forget that a coin in a piggy bank is of no use. In the same way, a vocation locked in “postponement” or in the “whims of the self” will never be of any use. It will not allow one to find oneself and consequently will not bring happiness either to oneself or to others.
Finding something always means that something was lost or was out of our sight/reach and that we only became fully aware of its existence the moment we found it. The search and the finding seem to be inseparable, even when we are not aware of the existence of something that, without really being aware of it, we were missing.
It is not by chance that it often happens to us, when faced with certain things/realities, that we exclaim: “Eh! This is just what I needed!” Suddenly, it becomes light and something comes to meet our deepest (and even unconscious) longings.
In a way, someone saw what we couldn’t see. Someone searched for us and gave us the possibility to find it. In the case of vocation, this is precisely the process of discernment: we search for, not for absolute and definitive certainties or easy life solutions, but for those who will help us to search within ourselves and to find even that which we could not even imagine.
Some say that whoever seeks finds. The Gospel itself refers to this, for example, in Matthew 7:7. This is an essential truth if we are not to drift. In fact, sitting on the couch waiting for the “vocation to come and start happening” is far from a possibility.
To live one’s vocation from the very first moment of serious and responsible discernment is always synonymous to go searching and to set out on the road. If we think about it, this is the human truth from the very beginning of our existence.
Standing still is not an option. Inertia and apathy are not for living beings. To go according to what others say, rather than to set out to listen and dialogue with those who can understand and help us on our way is to reduce life to a vegetative or animal state.
The human being is called to happiness that goes beyond the fact of existing because we are made in the image and likeness of God. If, for living beings in general, the vocation to survive is the keynote of existence, then for the human being, the vocation that defines him/her as such implies more than just surviving. It demands living!
Life constantly requires proactive action. As the old saying goes, nothing is achieved without effort! Yes, without seeking and going beyond oneself, the vision of life, of the world, and of what fully fulfills us becomes blurred to the point of making us blind to who we are, to what we dream of being, and to the world of which we are a part of.
Our life choices and decisions do not always please Greeks and Trojans. Everyone seems to have opinions about what we should do and/or be, but… it is up to us to search and to find ourselves along this unfinished path. These tensions, which often seem to hinder vocational realization, are an integral part of the discernment process.
Looking for someone to accompany us in this process is fundamental. It requires leaving home and oneself. However, the search cannot be limited or end with the encounter with those who will help us discern. On the contrary, everything is a path of encounter, of listening and of dialogue.
This means, as we have seen Pope Francis advocate, experiencing the value of living through concrete faces. These encounters with others, however much these others may have a vision different from ours and may want to impose their will on our lives, cannot become moments of heated and violent dispute.
It is part of the vocational journey and fulfillment to work so that these moments are true encounters of love. And when they are, we know that dialoguing with those we love, even when there is disagreement, is never a fight to see who is right, but a way for the parties to listen to each other, to understand each other, and to be able to keep love alive, even if a rational understanding of all positions is not reached.
This seems a difficult mission, or even impossible in some cases. All the more reason for vocational discernment to be made starting from encounters and attending to the path we are walking with those whose mission is to help us discern. (Susana Vilas Boas)