Max Conrad: Vocation, Seeing the Bigger Picture

The first year doing anything is hard. Moving the furthest from home you’ve ever lived or adapting to new people, places and schedules can certainly be challenging. And let’s not forget the all-too-obvious “year concludes with the onset of a global pandemic.” But with dedication and help from those around you, a second year is like a new and brighter day. As I’ve begun my second year as a Lasallian Volunteer, I have sought to think critically about some of the parts of the “big picture” that I feel escaped me in some of the tumult of 2019 and 2020.

One of the main ideas that I’ve found myself gravitating toward lately is the role of vocation. For too long, vocation was just another word that might show up on a list of SAT or GRE vocabulary—I wouldn’t have had an answer if someone asked me what the term actually meant, much less what it might mean to me. But since making the decision to serve as a volunteer, I’m amazed at the reflective capacity that a single word can have.

Vocation has been a major element of all of the discourses of formation that I’ve found myself in: the Lasallian Volunteers program itself, in ministry here at DeLaSalle High School, and in community discussions. Community especially has been the source of some of the most active discussions of vocation for me this year. We gather every weekend on Sunday afternoons in fellowship and in the company of one another. The insight of the Brothers and Pablo, the other volunteer in my community, is a major inspiration for me as I continue to reflect on the role of vocation in my life. Lately, we’ve been discussing ways that we can have a greater impact beyond the walls of our humble abode—educating ourselves about local efforts to address homelessness and food insecurity, as well as how these issues might overlap with our work in the school community.

Vocations have an important place in the Lasallian tradition, for both the Brothers and Lasallian Partners such as myself. A vocation is something that transcends a job description or a field on an informational form. It’s even larger than the profession or trade that it might entail. There’s much more at stake when we look at what this larger human vocation is, and how we are invited to be a part of it. It’s through this that I’ve found much synchronicity between the invitation to vocation and my own spiritual tradition. In my faith, the Russian Orthodox Church, a central understanding of our human vocation is theosis, the process of achieving unity with Christ in words, thoughts and deeds. But to accomplish this and bring one’s self closer to God, we must be as Christ to others. I see the meaning of vocation as a reflection of the whole person and the journey that they find themselves on. It’s all of our trials and tribulations on the backdrop of the time and place that we find ourselves in.

Serving in Minneapolis has been especially important for my understanding of vocation. Many of the issues that I see as defining the nation in the year 2020—including racial injustice, political polarization and the pandemic’s changes to society—have unfolded synchronously here in Minneapolis. This can’t be a coincidence either, and part of exploring vocation is being acutely aware of the issues facing the larger community. I’ve sought to work towards a deeper understanding of the city and its history, what it was, what it is now, and what it can still become.

Vocation is more than just who you can be. It’s who you can be for other people.

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