On Vocation and the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm - St. Bernard's

On Vocation and the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm

Feb 13, 2024

Carmina M. Chapp, Ph.D.

Recently, I was asked to speak to a group of high school seniors about vocations. These students were four months away from graduation, and you could tell they had senioritis pretty badly. Most knew what they were doing after high school, whether it be college or otherwise, however when I asked them if they knew what they wanted to be when they grew up, only a few of them raised their hands. Apparently, what they were doing right after high school was not necessarily related to what they wanted to be. Or was it?

I admitted to them that I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. If someone had said to me when I was eighteen years old that I would do what I have done in my life - that I would be what I have become - I would not have believed it. Looking back, I can't even explain how it all happened, apart from God's grace. My life flows on the river of grace, caught up in its current, until the Weaver folds it up and severs the last thread.

And so it is with vocation - our calling from God to do His will. It unfolds before us. It is revealed to us, step by step, in proper time - God's time. I can appreciate the anxiety of the young person just starting out in life trying to figure out "what to be." What if I make a mistake? Will I be happy? Will I be able to support myself, and possibly a family? The "being able to support oneself" is usually high on the list of concerns. These are all valid, practical questions, which make sense. Our vocations are not abstract. They are the most concrete means by which we build the kingdom of God. Our first vocation is to love - to bring God's love into the world. How we do that can take any number of forms. Which is the right one for me?

So how do we answer these questions? Frankly, with a lot of uncertainty. Will I make a mistake? Perhaps. Will I be happy? Sometimes. Will I be able to support myself? Maybe. These answers are unsatisfactory to the young person. It is terrifying to look into the abyss and not know what lies ahead. There is a desire for a certainty that will ease the anxiety.

Rather than offer inadequate responses, I suggest that we start asking different questions. "What do I want to be when I grow up?" should be "How am I to love God and my neighbor right now?" And the answer will not be abstract. Our hearts need to be open to seeing how the desires God puts there are satisfied by the real opportunities put before us at any given moment. We then need to respond to these opportunities, cooperate with the grace of God presented there, and ride the wave.

Following one's vocation is a very active process. It is a mistake to think that we can decide on a vocation and then passively coast in security for the rest of our lives. Discernment involves an ongoing listening to God and receiving in prayer the plans He has for us. Listening and receiving are not passive exercises. We must consciously pay attention and actively take into our hearts and minds what is being given. Often, what we discern as God's will for us in the moment is not logical. I think God does this intentionally. He wants us to show Him we trust Him. My whole life has been a series of illogical decisions that have caused many friends and family to think I am crazy. But I know that my Redeemer lives! I am in good hands. I can honestly say, looking back on my life, that every illogical step along the way prepared me for the next, and so in hindsight, they weren't illogical at all.

I would have to say that the least sensible discernment I ever made was one my husband and I made together. Larry and I are both theologians and had been teaching college and graduate students for our whole careers. For years, he and I had prayed the Liturgy of the Hours together as a couple. God was truly working in both of us. Separately, we had received in prayer that we were to move to a more secluded area and "be ready to feed people." We didn't really know what this meant at the time - we were professors, not farmers, and we certainly didn't have the resources to buy land. But we pondered these things in our hearts and kept our eyes and ears open. Over time, it was revealed when and where we were to found the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm.

Now, eleven years later, it has become very clear why we were to do something that seemed so foolish at the time. Living on the land has definitely benefited us spiritually and helped us to simplify our material lives. Our mission requires that we use all the gifts and talents God has given us, especially Larry through his Gaudium et Spes 22 blog. This stage of our vocation as a couple has contributed to the building of the kingdom in ways we could not have imagined. And we never saw it coming.

Vocation is a lifelong discovery, an unfolding of the mystery that is God. We make commitments along the way which narrow our vocations in one sense (as in marriage or religious life), but at the same time open up possibilities not available to us without those commitments. We move along in our state of life continuing to listen attentively to God's call and respond in grace, as Larry and I did with the farm. The more experienced we become in discernment, the more we realize that God really does have a plan for us, and that it is better than anything we could plan for ourselves.

This is liberating! Putting our lives into the hands of God gives us true freedom. This is the message I wanted to convey to those high school seniors, and to anyone who will listen. We are free in Christ. As St. John Paul II taught me when I was a young woman, "Be not afraid!"

Dr. Chapp is a professor at St. Bernard's and assists in courses related to our Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies degree program.

Carmina Chapp earned her Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Providence College and her Ph.D. in Roman Catholic Systematic Theology from Duquesne University, with a focus on sacramental theology. Her areas of theological interest include sacraments and liturgy, ecclesiology, and spirituality. She is a past-president of the Society for Catholic Liturgy. Chapp has been involved in Catholic seminary formation and higher education for over twenty-five years. She began her career at DeSales University, then moved on to serve as Academic Dean at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Her most recent work was as director of online theology programs at Saint Joseph’s College in Maine. She lives with her husband on the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm in northeastern Pennsylvania.