Culture of Vocation: Part 1

Challenges: A Culture of Calculation

Challenges to Building a Culture of Vocation Part 1 –
Our Culture of Calculation

The Curious Case of the Sadistic Poker Player of Discernment

God is not a Sadistic poker player. Yet this is the image that many young people unknowingly have of him. He holds the cards of our lives in his hands. He knows the secret to our best life and true happiness, but he won’t tell. We don’t even know if he’s holding a good hand or a bad hand. Worse yet, he might be bluffing.

Those who don’t believe that God has a purpose for their lives are not immune from him. Their Sadistic Poker Player is their desire. They imitate the desires of the people around them without knowing where they ultimately lead.[i] Without the light of truth, there’s no assurance that they’re on the right path. In this environment, choice is trepidation.

How do we pick among good things? When I go to a restaurant, I get menu anxiety. I don’t want to order the steak if the place is known for their fish. If you hand me a wine list, it’s even worse. I like to hear the words, “Good choice.”

If I have this much anxiety over these choices, how much more anxiety do I have over the cards that the Sadistic Poker Player is holding! I fear hearing “wrong choice” come from his cold, grey lips before he lays down his hand and laughs.

But Jesus doesn’t greet people in heaven with “good choice.” In the parable of the good steward, he says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

The Lord’s praise is for his servant’s doing and faithfulness. This is the joy of vocation when it is approached as a gift. It’s a stark contrast to the fear, anxiety, and depression rampant in young people today who are weighed down by decision fatigue and a sense that in the end, it doesn’t even matter.[ii]

The voice of Jesus sounds very different. He says to the Samaritan woman: “If you only knew the gift of God!”

Today, that gift requires a new kind of openness.

[i] Rene Girard on mimetic theory is a crucial piece in understanding the pull in a million directions of many young people today

[ii] Linkin Park, “In the End”

[iii] John 4:10

Education: Love & Adventure

Adventure in Learning

For St. Augustine, love alone allows us to see what something is really like, or what someone is ultimately capable of becoming. Education is first and foremost an act of love. Through love, we are able to help people become who they are.

An educator’s job is to help each student develop according to their God-given, individual design. This requires a great sensitivity to the uniqueness of each person. It also calls for the cultivation of interior freedom in each student so that they can pursue knowledge and understanding according to their personal way of being.

In the real world, we read books that we are curious about. And we are free to follow that curiosity to its end! If I read a good book, I may follow a footnote within it that gets my attention. This often leads to the exploration of a new author, and a new sphere of thought. But this way of learning is missing from the typical, static, college course. Where is the adventure?

Love is always an adventure.​


There is no adventure without freedom.

​The real joy in playing jazz music is in the freedom of the musician to give expression to what moves him. Now, there are basics that the musician has to master in order to get to this point. For example, he must know the fundamentals of music, and he must respect the baseline and accompanying instrumentals of each song. But beyond that, he is free to move in often unexpected directions. The joy of jazz is in spontaneity!

If we have lost the joy in education, it is because we have lost the freedom to give expression to who we really are. There should be joy in learning. The search for truth, when authentic, is a joyful experience because it is a following of that which we love. For a Christian, it is a following of Jesus Christ. And we must follow him as we are – not as anyone else follows him, and not as anyone else might want us to. This is why attentiveness to the unique person is the foundation of  education: by denying a person the full exercise of his freedom to be who he is uniquely created to be, we are denying him truth.

Toward a Renewal in Catholic Education

There is no “system” for renewing education. What is needed is a radical attentiveness to the personhood of each student. We believe that true renewal in education will come about by creating a “culture of vocation” in our schools so that the entire journey of learning is situated in a context of who the human person is and what he is called to be. As long as education is built on an inadequate anthropology (human persons as information-gatherers, for instance), there is no amount of tweaking that can fix it. We have to raze the bastions, in one sense, in order to get back to the persons themselves.

We can create a culture of vocation within education by forming strong local communities and, above all, by fostering loving and open dialogue between those primordial communities, families, our primary educators. It is within the family that the first stirrings of personal vocation arise, and so it must be within the family that personal vocation can be cultivated by an education that takes it seriously.