The National Catholic Center for the Laity is an independent organization founded to continue the discussion prompted by the Second Vatican Council and the 1977 Chicago Declaration of Christian Concern, both of which emphasized the role of the laity. The May 2019 issue of the Center’s newsletter Initiatives featured a front-page article titled “Vocations,” which provides a nicely-worded account of the importance of understanding calling as broadly as possible. The article offers a welcome corrective to the tendency to limit the term vocation to those called to religious life. It also includes a very nice shout-out to NetVUE, to Tom Perrin’s recent New York Times article on vocation, and to the recent InsideHigherEd piece, “What College Students Need Most.”
NCL’s reproducible “Spirituality of Work” booklets, each specific to a workaday vocation, can be obtained from The Pastoral Center (1212 Versailles Ave., Alameda, CA 94501; https://pastoral.center/work). More information about the National Catholic Center for the Laity is available on its website at www.catholiclabor.org.
Catholic institutions spin vocation and identity in unique ways for their students. Many with a cursory knowledge of Catholic higher education are aware of its general missionary zeal for social justice. Some also may be aware that Jesuit-Catholic colleges operate, by mission, according to the Ignatian principle of cura personalis. Translated as “care for the whole person,” the idea behind cura personalis is to move beyond pure intellectual concerns to notice, learn about, and attend to the whole of a person’s life—the head, the heart, body, and soul.
How might these things come together to inform relations between staff, faculty, and students? How do they help foster a vocation? By sharing my perspective and experience I hope to provide a partial answer to these questions. I will recap how I came to weave cura personalis into my work and recount how it has remained an important part of my philosophy of education and professional life in secular institutions, beyond a formative period. Cura personalis offers an old way of seeing problems and issues that feels timeless, and highly relevant in today’s environment.
This May, I served as a program assistant for St. Norbert College’s Global Seminar Course, Walking the Camino: The History and Spirituality of Pilgrimage. The group walked the last 160 miles of the Camino Francès from Astorga, Spain, to Santiago de Compostela. In a series of blog posts over the next few months, I want to reflect upon the journey and the connections I made with my work in vocation back on campus.
My general approach to traveling—and, one might say, to life—is to prepare and research enough to have some knowledge of where I am going and where I am resting my head at night, yet leave plenty of room for the unexpected and unimaginable experiences ahead. I schedule the opportunities I might miss out on if not planned in advance, but keep space for what I find along the way.
I read Daniel Meyers’ “Interfaith Vocational Exploration: Proceed with Caution” with interest. I appreciate his recognition that the word and concept of vocation, at least as narrowly construed, comes from a particular and, at least in Western societies, privileged position. As he notes, this implies concomitant need to “proceed with caution,” because other faiths are by necessity having to “translate” and respond to Christianity’s terms, ideas, and paradigms. As a Buddhist at a Lutheran college, I have sometimes had concerns about question-and-answer periods when Buddhist speakers were called on to respond to questions about parallels (or lack thereof) to Christian concepts. I often felt that the short answer demanded in such circumstances distorted ideas about my religious tradition, or missed the main points about my faith. Like Meyers, I think the literature on interfaith dialogue can be a helpful resource in thinking and talking about interfaith vocational exploration. However, I would like to propose a different model.
This spring, images of Hollywood stars ducking out of courtrooms accompanied astounding details of an admissions scandal that implicated several elite educational institutions. Some readers were horrified at the revelations while others categorized the pay-to-play schemes as part of a larger culture of corruption – why should higher education be immune? Whether you were surprised or not by the complicated details, it was difficult not to be disgusted. But Katherine Maloney, a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University who now teaches chemistry at Point Loma Nazarene University, had a slightly different response.