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Awakening Vocation: A Theology of Christian Call by Edward P. Hahnenberg

by Ann Marie Castleman | September 7, 2012

God calls me through others for others. Deceivingly simple, this statement captures Edward Hahnenberg’s theology of vocation as developed in his book Awakening Vocation: A Theology of Christian Call.  Written for those with a privileged place in the world, Dr. Hahnenberg offers a modern theology of vocation based on a spirit of solidarity, patiently laying out an understanding of vocation that is both incredibly challenging and undoubtedly hopeful.  

Building upon the work of Jesuits Karl Rahner, Ignacio Ellacuría and others, Dr. Hahnenberg formulates a theology of vocation that considers the realities of our global world where disparities abound between the haves and the have-nots. Hahnenberg argues that we are called to recognize our own role—whether intentional or not—in this systemic sin. The poor are Christ crucified in our modern context. As such, it is the poor who bring salvation today, since just like Jesus, they are the ones who bear the consequences of a sin they did not commit. 

Yet Dr. Hahnenberg proposes that we are not simply called to serve the poor. As Christians we are called to be in solidarity with the crucified people—to be for others, with others. Hahnenberg writes, “Volunteering at the soup kitchen does not get us off the hook. It ought to hook us, drawing us more deeply into the place of the poor as a place of ongoing and growing commitment and concern. When concrete acts of love like these unsettle us, and continue to unsettle us, then they appropriately serve as the beginning of solidarity.” This is what he suggests will lead to a change in lifestyle and to our openness to God’s call.

God calls me through others for others. This is not a concept of vocation that is easy to swallow. It’s incredibly challenging. Dr. Hahnenberg gives us a practical means for discerning vocation—but one that’s likely uncomfortable and difficult for most of us because it involves feeling others’ pain, recognizing my own contribution to that pain and doing something to rectify it beyond easing my own conscience. If I call myself a follower of Jesus, I really have to think about what that means and look to Jesus’ life to see how he lived in solidarity with the poor. Being truly open to God’s call for my life will lead me down a difficult path that the poor live every day, although what that looks like for my particular life is open to discernment. Even so, the direction of that path is already set. No longer can I continue to live the way I do, if I am to be in solidarity with the poor.

This book isn’t for just anyone trying to discern their vocation. It demands that the reader be truly open to God’s call and seriously embrace the discernment process. If Dr. Hahnenberg is onto something here—and I think he is—and we as Catholics fully embrace this understanding of vocation, then our world is going to look much, much different than it does today. What a truly novel concept…or maybe not. That may have been what Jesus was talking about all along.

Author information Ann Marie Castleman

Ann Marie Castleman was a 2009 Catholics on Call participant. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Theology from Xavier University and a Master of Public Health from the University of Minnesota. Working to support healthcare initiatives in Managua, Nicaragua for about two years, she now lives and works in Kansas City, Missouri.

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