Is it a vocation or a job or profession?
There is a distinct difference between vocation and profession, although they are not mutually exclusive and do in fact overlap. Profession is a much more restricted term, which we use to indicate a career or a particular ability we develop, usually with the purpose of earning a livelihood and contributing in some way to the good of society, but always considered in a horizontal dimension. You don’t need to believe in God to choose a profession and exercise it in an outstanding way, doing much good to and for others in the process. A person can pick, choose and switch professions freely since the principal point of reference is his preferences, his own benefit and the opportunities he has.
But when we use the word vocation we introduce a vertical dimension into our life, especially into our thinking process and decisions, since the point of reference when we talk about vocation is God’s will – what we believe he is calling us to do with our life, the purpose for which he created us as it relates to the salvation of our own soul and the salvation of others. So a vocation is not something you switch out of on a whim, since it is not something you go into lightly. In following a vocation the main question is: What does God want? and not: What do I prefer? So it would be a major mistake to approach a vocation to the priestly or consecrated life, or to marriage, thinking only of ourselves and not being willing to commit ourselves to it, “for better or for worse” because we know God wants us to see it through.
And so, if there is ever a conflict between our profession and our vocation, it is always the vocation that has to win. A married person who knows that a career opportunity that opens up to him will most probably destroy his marriage must opt for his marriage vocation even if the price is his career. A baptized doctor who risks losing his license if he refuses to do certain immoral procedures will follow his Christian vocation and even at the cost of his medical career. A priest who is a great success in a particular field of ministry and is asked by his bishop to serve in a different area must follow his priestly vocation which includes obedience to his bishop, rather than his “success” in a particular field.
When should young people start answering God’s call, meaning when should one enter the seminary or a religious order? From a general point of view, the answer would be, “Right away”, meaning as soon as you hear the call and prudently come to the conclusion that it may be authentic you should act on it. In our daily life, whenever God asks us to do something, we should follow through quickly and generously. That is the general principal, but when we are faced with a concrete individual, several factors and circumstances can affect the answer. For someone still underage his parents’ desires are a major factor in his decision and he needs their permission to take any definitive step. This would apply to a teenager still in high school who wants to go to a high school seminary, or one finishing high school but still a minor who wants to enter the seminary. The parents have the burden of judging if their child is mature enough, or if their natural attachment is getting in the way, etc….
All in all, the important attitude for any young person to foster is generosity with God. Just like Samuel in the Bible (1 Samuel 3): “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!”