Arts and Culture

Called to Love

Eleventh in a Series
MY SUSPICION is that when Catholics hear the word “vocation” they spontaneously think of a religious vocation – a vocation to the priesthood or to religious life as a nun or a brother. The notion of vocation is much broader than that. I believe that every person has a vocation.
In his book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life (HarperOne, An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2010, 432 pages, $26.99), Father James Martin, S.J., writes the following:
“But ever since the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, which stressed the ‘universal call to holiness,’ Catholics have been reminded that everyone has a vocation. This is something that we could have easily learned from other Christian denominations: their churches have always sought the active participation of the lay members and have placed comparatively less emphasis on ordained ministries. Everyone has a vocation.
The root meaning of the word points to this. It has little to do with ordination or religious orders. It comes from the Latin vocare, ‘to call.’ A vocation is something you’re called to.” (p. 141)
In philosophy classes at St. John’s University when the students and I reflect on the mystery of love, I emphasize that human beings can exert a profound influence on one another. Some philosophers stress that human beings on every level of being human co-exist. This translates into the truth that we are either helped or hindered in our efforts to be intelligent, moral and caring human beings.
We co-exist on the level of meaning from our first day of school to our reading of the daily newspaper. We depend on others to teach us and to inform us. This column can be written by me because of the teachers that I have had and the books that I have read. For better or worse, the way that I think has been influenced by others. I can teach philosophy at St. John’s because in graduate studies at two universities I read the writings of great philosophers.
We also co-exist on the level of emotion. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, claimed that our basic personality was formed between the ages of three and six. I don’t agree with that view but obviously our emotional life is affected when we are young by our parents, siblings and perhaps by others.
I think the most important aspect of co-existence is the level of loving and being loved. The most important activity a human person can perform is to love and the most important gift a human person can receive is love. Loving and being loved have a profound influence on us. Loving helps the lover and being loved helps the beloved.
Every person is a call or a need or an appeal to be loved. The key word is the word “is.” Obviously not every person vocally calls to be loved or expresses a need to be loved. Every person is a call for love. We don’t have any choice about this. God has made us as creatures who need to be loved. We are brought into existence through God’s love and we will develop and grow through the love given to us by others.
Who is a call for love? Everyone is a call: the rich and poor, the geniuses and mentally challenged, the physically strong and physically weak, the emotionally mature and emotionally immature, fetuses and the senile. The person who does not need to be loved does not exist.
Who is being called?  To be a person is to be called to love. Everyone is being called to love: the rich and the poor, the geniuses and the mentally challenged, the physically strong and the physically weak, the emotionally mature and the emotionally immature, fetuses and the senile.
Love is the free self-gift of a person to another or to others. This free self gift can take many forms and have different degrees of intensity. A man does not love his neighbor the way he loves his wife.  A fetus and a senile person may not freely make a self-gift but their very existence is a gift.
I agree with Father Martin that everyone has a vocation. The basic vocation of every person is to exist as a self-gift, which is another way of saying to be a lover.[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.