When my mother asked me to clean my room, my first thought was, “Why does one ever have to clean her room, and why right now?” I should just have cleaned my room, but I like to get to the bottom of things, to understand the reasoning behind actions and decisions. The question on my mind is “Why do I do what I do?”
The answer I’ve found over time is the idea of personal vocation, discerned with an understanding of the wisdom found in Christ. I do what I am asked to do because I’ve been asked, because I’ve been called. Each important choice must be wisely discerned in relation to the broader purpose of one’s life.
Vocation is personal, a set of tasks meant for me that only I can fulfill. If we are oriented toward the higher goal of truly flourishing as God intends for us as unique persons, this will inform both our major decisions and our attitude toward smaller habits we develop.
My decision to attend Notre Dame, for example, was driven by a considerable number of vocational questions. Why do I want to go to college? Why do I want the kind of education that I will receive at Our Lady’s university? Why do I care about the plethora of chapels on campus and the groups that exist within its walls? My answers to each of these made clear that Notre Dame would be, educationally, spiritually, and socially, the kind of place that would enable me to answer a call. And not just a call, but my call.
This hunt for answers did not stop once I unpacked the last of my far too many items at the end of move-in day freshman year. As I chose my classes, as I did—or did not do—my homework, as I confronted the social scene, I asked myself the same question: Why?
For the Christian, calling is something countercultural, because it flows from a wisdom that we find primarily in Christ and not solely in the things of the world. The Book of Proverbs says that “the wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways” (14:8). Yet is it even possible to give serious thought to all that we do and, beyond that, why we do it? I find myself acting without contemplating my choices, going through the motions of daily life simply as a matter of routine. So do my peers at Notre Dame and other universities, many of whom have not been educated about the value of discernment and who can be content to follow the crowd.
But often, our vocation is precisely the opposite of what the crowd urges us to do. “He who walks with wise men shall be wise,” Proverbs tells us, and walking with the leaders of popular culture and adhering to their false wisdom hardly fits the bill. Especially because we live in a society enslaved by a view of freedom as personal autonomy and dominated by sexual degradation, discerning God’s call requires shutting out the voices of the world and listening rather to the voices we can trust—family and friends of good faith, the Church, and the Holy Spirit—all of which can lead us to, and through, our personal vocation.
Believing that God has given me a vocation, though, does not mean that I must agonize over each tiny decision. It means for me as a college student working diligently in all of my classes, sanctifying tasks with perseverance, even when I’m tired or have a headache. It means not following my peers down every rabbit hole the modern world offers, even if they insist that I need to “live a little more.” It means giving up some free time to dedicate myself to the Irish Rover newspaper or the Edith Stein Project, at the expense of my social life, to provide wisdom at Notre Dame that might lead others to a deeper understanding of their own vocations, their own prudences.
It can seem that our collegiate vocation is simply to discern our vocation, as if living one’s calling must be put on hold until she determines what comes next. But as students we are called to be students, to see the deeper purpose behind our education, to devote ourselves to that education, and to help one another do our best work, even as we discern the next proper step to which we are being called.
Our vocation as Christians is to grow in the virtues that are suited to our personal vocation, which provides each of us a particular set of virtues to cultivate. Chief among those are the wisdom and prudence—inextricably linked—that will amplify Christ’s personal call even in the routine of daily life.