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The vocation to public office

‘Vocation’ is a household term for just about every Catholic. In those early years of our life, we regularly hear the refrain to “pray for our vocation” and to listen to God’s call for our life. We are invited to consider a vocation to the priesthood, religious life, or marriage.

We are also regularly admonished to “pray for vocations” and lift up in prayer those undertaking the effort to follow God’s call in their life.

One’s vocation is a pretty big deal, and our vocation is an incredibly beautiful experience. For those who toil and struggle to find their vocation, it becomes an even more precious treasure.

Alongside of the big-“V” vocations of marriage, religious life, and the priesthood, there are also the little-“v” vocations. These are the various callings we receive throughout our life that last for a longer or shorter period of time, depending on what God has in store for us. Perhaps a lay person is called to serve their local parish in a particular way. Or perhaps a parish priest is called for a time to step away from their diocese and become a foreign missionary.

Saint Mother Teresa experienced what she referred to as her “call within a call.” She had already received her big-“V” vocation to religious life when the Lord called her to serve Him in a more particular and special way in founding the Missionaries of Charity, to serve both the spiritual and materials needs of the poorest of the poor in the dirt streets of Calcutta.

Coming off another election cycle, it seems a fitting time to propose the vocation to public office. By this I mean the “call within a call” of a lay person to consider whether God may be calling them to serve as an elected representative.

In our day and age, the jokes and denigration of politicians is rampant. It is all too easy to belittle politicians, and it seems they bring it on themselves through their own conduct. These caricatures of elected officials often leave us with a sense that public office is a corrupt and sordid affair, only intended for those who are willing to sell off some part (or even the whole) of their soul.

However, the vocation to serve one’s local community, state, and country through elected office is filled with noble purpose. As Pope Francis addressed Congress in 2015: “Your own responsibility of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called, and convened by those who elected you.”

This truth about Congress is no less true for other public offices, whether they be school board, city council, board of county commissioners, state legislature, or any other local elected offices.

As with other professions, God is calling good and faithful Catholics to consider running for elected office. He is not calling Catholics to sit on the political sidelines and watch from a distance. He is calling them to roll up their sleeves and enter the chambers of the capitol, the meeting rooms of city hall, and the basements of county courthouses (at least that’s where my county board met when I was in high school!).

Similar to other professions, many good and faithful Catholics are either not listening to the call because of a lack of prayerful discernment or because they fear the great task ahead of them. But let this not be so. May our fervent and heartfelt prayer today, and in the days ahead, be that more Catholics listen attentively to the call of God in their heart to consider whether He is asking them to consider a “call within the call” to serve as an elected official. May we pray for those already considering this path, that they find courage through spiritual direction and wise counsel of family and friends.

I leave you with some words from Saint John Henry Newman: “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission…. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am[.]”

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