Those Other Vocations

Interview With Director of Van Thuân Observatory

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By Antonio Gaspari
ROME, MARCH 4, 2010 ( Many young people think of Roman collars or religious habits when they hear the word vocation. But the broader idea of vocation — a call — needs to be renewed, according to the director of an international observatory that promotes Catholic social doctrine.

Stefano Fontana, director of the Verona, Italy-based Van Thuân International Observatory has just authored “Parola e communita politica. Saggio su vocazione e attesa” [Word and Political Community. Essay on Vocation and Expectation.]. In his presentation of the book, Fontana, who is also a consultor for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, claims that the “vocation crisis” is worrying because it inhibits coexistence: “receptivity, gratitude, gratuitousness.”

His book, he says, is to try to reverse this tendency, “because the person who is deaf to a vocation doesn’t know where to go.”
ZENIT: What is a vocation?
Fontana: The vocation is a call, a word that comes out to meet us, asking from us a response.

Communicating itself, a vocation attracts us and invites us to constitute ourselves in our identity. In the answer to the meaning that draws us in, we constitute ourselves in our own sense.
When we find a meaning that we have not produced, we are before a word that is addressed to us, a call, a vocation. A vocation is the manifestation of the unconditional.
ZENIT: In the book that has just been published, you maintain that the lack of vocation impedes human development, limits social and political coexistence, and penalizes having a family and making a commitment to work in solidarity and in relations with others. Why?
Fontana: The most worrying phenomenon of our day is the difficulty to read in things and in our life a word over us, a call.
It is hard to see a vocation in the person we love. Marriage and the family are seen increasingly as choices and conventions, and not as a reality that contains an important proposal of meaning for our humanity, a beauty that attracts and thrills us.
In our very nature itself of human persons it is difficult to find a reading of how we should be, the indication of a path to follow.
Does to be a person and to be this person still represent a vocation in face of the subjectivism and a culture that would like to embrace nature in itself?
Many today do not see in sexual identity a vocation, but a choice. To have a humanity sexually determined is no longer something that speaks to us and communicates a plan to us, but a construction of our own making.
All our physique is taken very much into account in the welfare society, but as something to mold, plan, demolish and reconstruct, show — not as a vocation to appreciate.
Modesty is born from the perception that the body is word, but our body no longer has anything to say to us, the first and last word on it we presume to find in creams and pills, in gymnasiums and the scalpel, in silicone and low necklines.
Also the natural surroundings that are before us — nature in the naturalist sense of the word — is seen above all as an ensemble of functional objects.
The “created” is no longer discourse of the creator Logos, word that acts, with a message to communicate.
ZENIT: We live in a society that exaggerates the exaltation of the ego. It seems that to be happy, one must have total power over reality and things, be able to dispose of persons and bodies, to realize full and total hedonism. Are these, perhaps, the motives that have led to the obfuscation of vocation and to the despair of those who have not found the meaning of life?
Fontana: The crisis of vocation is very worrying, also in social and political terms, because it inhibits three essential attitudes for coexistence: receptivity, gratitude and gratuitousness.
The first is receptivity. The demographic crisis that affects many countries and weakens them morally before economically is due to this widespread difficulty to accept.
The laws on “assisted suicide” denounce a lack of acceptance of life itself.
Multi-culturalism and its failure show that indifferent tolerance is not true acceptance.
Moreover, the acceptance of the other seems impossible to us without the idea of accepting ourselves and the experience of having been accepted.
The second is gratitude. If persons and experiences do not speak to us, we do not discover ourselves as debtors and it will be really hard for us to be grateful for having met them.
Our family, our culture, our being man or woman, having children, working, coming from a history, having received life, all this can be the object of gratitude if we find a legacy of words said, a revelation of meaning that in some way has given us light.
Otherwise, there is rejection and the negation of all this, or also shame or hatred for having suffered a series of impositions and violence, or even the recantation or apostasy of oneself and of one’s past.
Our identity itself can be lived with gratitude. The West seems particularly affected today by this syndrome of shame of oneself and of ingratitude.
If we do not feel gratitude to those who have transmitted to us certain values, we do not feel the duty to transmit them.
The lack of gratitude breaks the continuity between generations and produces the “educational emergency.”
The third is gratuitousness. Vocation is given to us as gift. To lose the sense of vocation means to lose the sense of gift and to think that meaning is always and only produced by us.
If my past, my nature and others do not speak to me, it means that I establish its sense or that we do, if we refer to the cultural and social structures.
Free is what one receives simply as grace, toward which one shows gratitude for having been able to receive it.
Vocation entails all this because it is not a “word that we pronounce,” but a “word pronounced on us”; hence, a given word.
 [Translation by ZENIT]

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