VENZOR: The noble vocation to public office
December 21, 2020
“Vocation” is a household Catholic term. In those early years of life, we regularly hear the refrain to “pray for our vocation.” We are invited to consider a vocation to the priesthood, religious life or marriage. And those both young and old are encouraged to “pray for vocations.”
One’s vocation is a big deal. It is a beautiful gift from God. For those who toil and struggle to find their vocation, it becomes an even more precious treasure.
Alongside the big “V” vocations of marriage, religious life and the priesthood, there are the little “v” vocations. These are the various callings we receive throughout life which last for longer or shorter durations of time depending on what God has planned for us. These little “v” vocations might lead, for example, to a lay person serving their parish in a particular way or calling a priest to serve as a missionary for a time.
St. Mother Teresa experienced this little “v” vocation in her “call within a call.” Already having received her big “V” vocation to religious life, the Lord called her to serve him in a more particular way by founding the Missionaries of Charity to meet the spiritual and materials needs of the poorest of the poor in Calcutta’s dirt streets.
Having completed another election cycle, it is a fitting time to propose the vocation to public office. By this I mean the “call within a call” of a lay person to serve as an elected representative.
Jokes and denigrating comments about politicians are a dime a dozen. These caricatures of elected officials often leave us thinking that public office is a corrupt and sordid affair, a venture intended only for those willing to sell off some part (or even the whole) of their souls.
However, the vocation to serve one’s local community, state and country through elected office is a noble pursuit with noble aims. As Pope Francis said in an address to the U.S. 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 of other public offices, whether they be school board, city council, board of county commissioners, state Legislature, or any other local elected offices.
God is calling faithful Catholics to consider running for elected office. He is not calling Catholics to sit on the political sidelines and observe from a distance. He is calling Catholics to roll up their sleeves and enter the chambers of the capitol, the meeting rooms of city hall, and the basements of county courthouses (That’s where my county board met when I was a kid!).
Too often many good and faithful Catholics are not listening to the call. Maybe it is a lack of prayerful discernment. Or maybe they fear the task ahead. Regardless, let this not be so.
May our fervent prayer be that Catholics attentively listen to God’s “call within a call” and whether he is asking them to serve as elected officials. May we pray for those already considering this path, that they find courage through wise counsel of clergy, family and friends.
I leave you with these words of St. Cardinal 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.”
Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.