TOC Previous Next A+A-Print


Chapter 28: The Practicability of Christian Morality

Question E: How does commitment to one’s personal vocation promote growth toward perfection?

1. Living faith requires that it be lived out. Commitment to a personal vocation specifies how to do this in a way suited to one’s own abilities and opportunities. But neither progress in holiness nor even minimal perseverance in grace is guaranteed by the fact that a Christian’s life is organized in response to a personal vocation. One still can be radically unfaithful. Once life is organized in this way, nevertheless, one who is not radically unfaithful is almost compelled to make progress, slowly or quickly, toward holiness. There are several reasons for this.

2. First, in trying to live out a vocation, one attempts to place the rest of oneself in the service of the source of the vocational commitment—namely, living faith. But integration of the self with living faith is precisely what is meant by progress toward holiness. One loves God with all one’s mind and heart, soul and strength, by putting one’s whole self to work carrying out commitments made out of this love. At first, of course, the commitments themselves are imperfect. But the effort to live them out brings their imperfections to the surface, and thus gives one the opportunity increasingly to purge them of the mixed motives by which they were originally contaminated.

3. Second, as one tries to live out a personal vocation, residual elements of other systems for organizing the self are challenged. For instance, a serious married man with hobbies is required either to fit them into his family life or give them up. If rightly subordinated to Christian family responsibilities, these interests are brought within the sphere of faith.

4. Third, when the whole of life is viewed as a personal response to one’s unique vocation, the implications of the Christian modes of response begin to become clear. Understanding life in terms of a commitment of faith to God, one is likely to begin to ask him for things and to realize that goods come from him; thus humility develops. Knowing one’s life to be a response to a call, one sees that one should accept one’s role and its difficulties with resignation; detachment and faithfulness begin to take on definite meanings. One’s Christian vocation implies responsibilities exceeding what others could justly expect of one; so the imperatives of mercy take shape.

5. Fourth, the inescapable, intrinsic dynamics of Christian transformation become operative. To avoid mortal sin and its occasions, to get rid of dispositions to sin and temptations, it is necessary to deepen and purify one’s Christian commitment, seek to overcome evil with good, and accept suffering for Christ’s sake. For example, a married couple come to find the precise shape of their own cross in the needs of sick or defective children, in difficulties about finances, in the problem of family limitation, in all the stresses and strains of their common life. For every person who sees life in terms of personal vocation, a time comes when actual moral options narrow down and the possibility of being a Christian without fully responding like one no longer exists.

6. Problems of the same sort arise for a person whose life is not organized as a response to a personal vocation, but he or she is not prepared to meet them. Discouragement comes easily. A search is launched to determine the absolute minimum required by morality, and even that minimum is breached more or less knowingly and deliberately. Even so, the possibility always remains that a person struggling along in a marginally Christian life of this kind will recognize its inadequacy and undertake to renew his or her commitment to Jesus.

Personal vocation has been discussed (in 23‑E). But it is necessary to clarify here how one’s Christian vocation can organize one’s whole life. The religious life does this job most simply.

A person who enters upon the religious life undertakes a major commitment which clearly implements the commitment of faith. The decision probably is made with certain mixed motives. Nevertheless, preparation for taking the vows and living in accord with them brings the commitment to bear against the individual’s likes and dislikes. The vow of obedience tends to remove the possibility of developing projects which will provide means for one’s own gratification. Other commitments must be held in abeyance or subordinated to the commitment to religious life. In being subordinated to it, they are also brought under the commitment of faith. Thus, rather quickly, an individual who enters religion (assuming a sound community with an adequate formation program) organizes all—or at least much, and increasingly much—of his or her life to implement the commitment of living faith. The simplicity and effectiveness of this way of organizing a Christian life is one reason why religious life is a very apt means for pursuing holiness.

In simpler and less affluent cultures and societies than ours, the commitment to Christian marriage could function for those who undertook it in a truly Christian spirit very much as does the commitment of the religious vows. A couple who committed themselves to indissoluble faithfulness, to a common effort of mutual sanctification, and to having and raising children for God lived their faith in the form of marriage and family life. A simpler culture left them few other commitments to make. Many faithful husbands worked simply to support themselves and their families; their social life and community involvements were oriented toward the welfare of their families. Many faithful wives had no life except that of family and church. Given faithfulness to the marital-parental commitment, virtually the whole of life was brought under the sway of faith working through love. (This is not to express nostalgia for a bygone age. Such cultures had their own problems. They did, however, provide a setting for the commitments of Christian personal vocation very different than that provided by our complex culture. This difference should not be ignored.)

In our society, where greater complexity and affluence make for greater liberty, everyone has more choices and so has a more complex task if the whole of life is to become the fulfillment of a personal vocation. A special difficulty is that in a pluralistic society those with faith associate and cooperate with those without faith, and thus tend to acquire worldly attitudes toward various activities. The association and cooperation cannot be excluded, but Christian life will be blocked from its proper integration if commitments are made which do not affirmatively express faith. Moreover, Christian integration will be blocked if there is room for activities in the service of likes and dislikes, projects aimed at various desired states of affairs, which fall under no commitment at all.