by Marjorie George
Never since Moses “has there arisen a prophet in Israel like him, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequalled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel” (Deut 34:10-12).
But Moses did not get to enter the Promised Land.
When Moses was 120 years old, with “his sight unimpaired and his vigor not abated,” the Lord took him up on a high mountain that overlooked all the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Here it is, God said to Moses, feast on it with your eyes.
But you will not get to enter it (Deut 34).
Moses’ work was done. For the next part of the journey, God called Joshua, a young buck who was “full of the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hand on him” (Deut 34:9). His strategy, you will remember, was to circle the town of Jericho until the walls fell down. It worked.
Such is the nature of vocation; we are called, we are given gifts, we are set in a particular place at a particular time, to serve God’s people (that would be all people).
In this issue of Reflections, our writers explicate the many aspects of vocation, particularly with a view toward the laity of the Church. Our baptisms, our confirmations, the Catechism of the Church lay a claim on our lives that, when we accept it, is nothing less than being a part of the bringing about of God’s Kingdom.
Many of us are accustomed to thinking of “vocation” – it comes from the Latin for “call” – as it applies to the ordained priesthood. In “The Meaning of Vocation,”* A. J.Conyers says the affiliation grew out of the early monastic movement that “so powerfully affected people’s notions of the extent to which one might go in answer to a divine call, that ‘vocation’ came to be associated with that one role in the church.”
The Protestant reformers, particularly Luther, sought to broaden the term and to introduce the teaching “that everyone, no matter their occupation, was a proper object of divine call” (pg 11-12).
The result, says Conyers, was the idea that vocation had merely to do with occupation.
The difference, says Elizabeth Newman in “Called Through Relationship,” is this: “while career refers primarily to human effort, vocation points in another direction. The initiative resides not with us, but with the One who calls and invites” (pg 22).
Thus vocation is not something we initiate, but is our response to the gifts God has given us and the ways in which God calls us to use them.
We each hear that call usually in ways that God knows will get our attention: Moses, out tending his father-in-law’s flock, is drawn to a bush that is burning but not consumed (Exodus 3:2). Elijah hears it in a still, small voice – some translations say “the sound of sheer silence” – up on a mountain (I Kings 19:12).
The women of Threads of Blessing, who teach Ugandan mothers to create and sell beautiful tapestries, hear it in the faces of those women who can now support themselves and send their children to school.
A young mother hears it when she tucks in her boys at night and says their prayers with them.
A son hears it as he listens to his elderly father’s re-telling of a tale he has told many times before.
An accountant hears it as she comforts a colleague who has been called down by the boss.
I heard it 41 years ago at St. Andrew’s, San Antonio, when, during announcements one Sunday, the priest said, “We need someone to do our newsletter,” and I thought, “Well, I can do that.”
In what has become a classic definition, Frederick Buechner describes vocation as “that place where your great passion meets the world’s great need,” and that is true, but living out one’s vocation is not always without some struggle (Jane Patterson addresses this in her article on pg 22). Moses could not leave the children of Israel alone for a minute but they were out engraving golden calves. Elijah was fleeing for his life when he encountered God on the mountain.
Children throw up in restaurants, colleagues turn on us, and everywhere people tell us to concern ourselves with ourselves first. I saw Gloria Steinem at a women’s conference recently, and dang the old girl looks good (and she is still not wearing a bra). But I was a young mother in the early 70s, and the pressure to go to work was intense. How dare you, young lady, not storm the corporate high-rise after all your sisters have done for you. I sure did enjoy doing that parish newsletter.
Moses died and was buried. His epitaph reads thusly: “Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day . . . The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended” (Deut 34:1-8).
And the children of God looked to their new leader, who took up his vocation and entered the Promised Land.
Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. She also assists in the diocesan Adult Christian Formation initiative. Reach her at