In general, vocation refers to a particular occupation, business, or profession. It is a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career. It is understood as a function or station in life to which one is called by God; a divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life: the religious vocation; the vocation of marriage.
The word Vocation came from Latin vocātiō a calling, from vocāre to call. But a vocation is more than an ordinary call. A vocation is a call from God, and anyone who has felt God’s call knows that the process is anything but simple. While most people think of a vocation as what they are called to do in life, it is important to understand that the first and most important call from God is a call to be – the universal call to holiness.
Your vocation is not the same as your career or profession. However, there is an overlap between a vocation and a profession. A career or a profession is something that you have in order to support yourself and to contribute in some way to the good of the society. You don’t need to believe in God to choose a career or a profession. A person can enter and leave professions freely depending on his/her preferences, strengths or circumstances. A profession or a career always has a horizontal dimension.
A religious vocation is a special grace that God gives to certain persons, calling them to a life of the evangelical counsels. It is, therefore, a gift and an opportunity that must be freely responded to if the grace is not to remain sterile and ineffective. When we talk about vocation, we introduce a vertical dimension in our life, which is God. It is no longer ‘what do I prefer?’ but rather ‘What does God want me to be?’
A vocation is not something that you can switch like a profession or a career. “Most of the time, in reality, the vocation to embrace religious life is not revealed in itself, directly, but it must be detected as if it were the pearl of the Gospel that is buried in the field. In effect, God, Who reserves to Himself the calling of those whom He chooses, nevertheless asks for the collaboration of the sacred ministers so that the young men may become aware of the action that divine grace operates and that they might bring to maturity the divine seed placed in their souls.”
How do you discover a true vocation? The expression “true vocation” is not casual, but critically important. Being a divine call, vocation seems to be a desire which cannot be understood clearly in the beginning. With time though, it may be clearly seen and understood. There are three things which make you to believe that you have vocation and discern it:
Our congregation has ‘two lungs’: Brothers and Priest, all Oblates religious. Vocation to brotherhood is not well understood. When coming to us many would like to become priests because they have seen priests celebrating masses. In our congregation priests and brothers have complementary responsibilities in evangelizing. (CC & RR 7). A brother doesn’t celebrate the sacraments and is often more free in his service and work, to bring Christ close to the people he encounters.
Many brothers have moved toward professional and academic occupations, especially in the areas of nursing, education, and peace and justice. Brothers in communities with priests often undertake advanced studies and enjoy equal standing with ordained Oblates. In addition, most brothers undertake some studies in spirituality, religious studies, and theology. Without the presence of brothers, the OMI congregation is incomplete.
Oblate priests are religious first. They are ordained to the priesthood for the sake of the mission of the Oblates. Like other priests, their priesthood is a participation in the priesthood of Christ, but they give themselves to the poor through the Oblate community.
Formation is an intense quite long period of preparation for Oblate religious life. It is a process which aims at the integral growth of a person and lasts a lifetime. It enables us to accept ourselves as we are and develop into the persons we are called to be. (CC&RR 47). The various stages of our Oblate formation are as follows: Aspirancy, Postulancy, Pre-novitiate, Novitiate, and Scholasticate.
The candidate who applies to join the congregation should go through aspirancy for some time, accompanied by the vocation team. This period helps the candidate and the Oblates get to know one another and discern together. The candidate needs to show some disposition of living Oblate life. After this period the candidate can be called to join and start his formation in the postulancy.
This is the first step of formation in the Oblate community. The candidate is invited to the community in order to live with others and experience community life. The length of time for this period is about 6 to 10 months. During this time postulants will live with the Oblates, contributing to community life, and Learning about community life, knowledge of the Church, the congregation and its charism, human development, spirituality, apostolate, etc. This program takes place in Kisaju-Kajiado County.
In the Kenya Mission, our pre-novices study philosophy while they are in the pre-novitiate. The emphasis is on the intellectual and personal growth of the candidate and the promise he shows that he will eventually become ready to begin the novitiate. Studies can make the program a bit longer, up to three years. The pre-novitiate will help pre-novices to discern and purify their motives for entering religious life. The pre-novitiate program takes place in Karen, Nairobi.
“The novitiate is the candidate’s time of initiation into Oblate religious life and leads to his public commitment in the congregation” (C 55). This initiation is oriented towards the assimilation of the Oblate Charism which is “an experience of the Spirit to be lived, safeguarded, deepened and constantly developed”. (Norms of Formation, Pg. 57)
The novitiate program is a year like no other in the formation of and Oblate. It is the same for both priest and brother candidates. This program ends with the ceremony of first vows. This stage of formation takes place out of Kenya, and lasts for one year.
This period is called “Post Novitiate” formation. Its focus is the theological and pastoral formation of young Oblates. But even at this stage, discernement continues. Philosophical and Theological studies take place in this stage of formation. Post-novitiate formation is for all newly-professed Oblates a time of furthering growth and building upon the foundation for Oblate life and mission established at the novitiate. (General Norms Pg.65)
A period of missionary and religious training, regency, or a ‘pastoral year’ is a necessary part of the post-novitiate formation. It gives the Oblate scholastic time to practice and integrate what he has learned in the scholasticate. This experience will allow the Young Oblate a variety of ministry opportunities with time for ongoing reflection and evaluation. Regency usually lasts about a year.
Our final vows, or perpetual Oblation, is a firm decision to remain an Oblate for one’s entire life. The Oblate making final vows will receive the large oblate cross as a symbol of his commitment to the life and mission of the congregation.
Every person joining religious life, should be ready to share his time and energy for Jesus and his people, especially the poor. He should be generous and passionate. He should value and treasure sacrifices, a great love for the poor and most abandoned. He must be animated with a great zeal for the Gospel and the salvation of the world.
Vocation comes from God but is nourished in the family. Parents are the first formators of the candidate to religious life. The role played by the parents is that of giving shape to the vocation of their son. The faith and good examples from the parents are inquired in the growth of the young candidate. Parents need to support the vocation of their son, psychologically, spiritually, emotionally and financially. The candidate doesn’t cease to be part of the family.
The candidate should bring his personal belongings: Clothes, shoes, toiletries, beddings, Bible, rosary, etc. Other things and expenses will be covered by the community. A full list will be supplied to candidates once they are accepted.
The candidate or the Oblate gives his family, love, spiritual and moral support. He brings the congregation and the church close to his family. Through his commitment as an Oblate, he increases the number of his family members, since his family will no longer be his own family but the family of all Oblates!