The Search for Meaning


To seek the meaning of life is to discern the vocation not only from what we are, but also from what we want to be. Only God gives us the gift of a meaning that goes beyond the troubled circumstances of life.




I was in the Central African Republic from 2006 to 2011 as a Lay Comboni Missionary. Before going abroad, I journeyed with the Lay Comboni Missionaries, in a course of discernment and vocational discovery. After that time, and before I even got on the plane, someone asked me, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I said, “I’m sure… and I can’t but do it.”

When I returned to Portugal, I wondered how to continue to live my vocation in a different place and in a different set up – a new phase for discernment. But is not life, after all, a path of discovery?

Today, I live my missionary vocation in a different way from the one I had experienced in the heart of Africa and I am always discovering new ways of living this vocation according to the reality in which I am.

Regardless of circumstances, vocation remains and challenges me daily. But what does vocation mean when life changes so much? If it were a profession, one could choose whether to exercise it or not.

However, talking about vocation is talking about something else: it is to go beyond constraints and even beyond options of “having or not having” a vocation. It is not “something we got”, because we all have vocation for (called to) and, in this sense, it is vocation that “got” us.

At a time when there is so much talk about vocation, I propose to take a path in these pages, which can help the reader to understand vocation and its meaning, moving away from preconceived ideas, exploring its different dimensions, and seeking the integral and intrinsic meaning that vocation offers to each one of us.

The Meaning Of Life 
In the heart of the Church, “the man disappears beneath the sublimity of his vocation” (St. Daniel Comboni, Writings, 1547). With these words, St. Comboni describes the mystery of the vocation and the role it plays in the life of a person: any vocation, lived in the Church, elevates the person to a superior condition, to a new life in Christ, which animates and gives meaning to life.

It is not a compartmentalization of life, or of fixing it to a particular and sole project. Rather, it is a sense that comes from the integrality of human reality, and from what each person is, giving color and direction, both to life in its global scope and in its daily life.

To seek the meaning of life is to discern the vocation not only from where we are now, but also from what we want to be; not from a self-centered reflection, but from the certainty that only God gives us the gift of a meaning that goes beyond the troubled circumstances of life. God is fullness, and it is in this fullness that God calls us to live: it is not a matter of making a personal choice of life, but of an option with and for God, for the benefit of our brothers and sisters.

The search for meaning is, therefore, a path of accompanied discernment. He who seeks, does not do it alone, but with Him who shows the way, saying: “Follow Me” (Luke 5:27), ensuring that this search is followed “every day until the end of time” (Matthew 28:20) and with the Church.

Vocation Is Openness
“One body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call” (Ephesians 4: 4). This is the meaning of vocation: to be in communion with God, at the service of others. It is not an obsession which prevents a “normal” life, but to assume within the “normal” life a transcendent attitude.

The meaning of vocation is always openness, outwards, surrender. Vocation always opens life to something greater, never reducing itself to an “I”, but rather to an “I – for”, an “I – with” and a “we”, without which human life cannot be fulfilled.

Vocation is always a way out of itself, which cannot be understood with annulment of oneself, but, on the contrary, to leave one’s own limitations and circumstances. St. Paul was already aware of this vocation, which is not the fruit of individual capacities but which is the gift of God when He exhorts the believers to take into account their vocation, since “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong…” (1 Corinthians 1,  27).

Vocation is only felt when there is surrender, a total acceptance that allows us to hear God’s call, despite the social currents that often seek to block our attention and resolve (Luke 5, 27-32). It is not a matter of adhering to the project of another person, but of accepting the project of the Other for the benefit of others, in order to find full happiness, where pain is always inhabited by hope, sorrow inhabited by the joy of faith and deprivation inhabited by charity.

Daring to respond to God’s call is to enter into a sea of opportunities: leaving everything becomes a way of finding everything (Luke 5, 11); the loss of everything, becomes the strength for everything (Philippians 4, 13).

Responding positively to the gift of vocation is more than an exclusion of opportunities; it is rather to enter into the discovery of opportunities capable of making us happy. However, it should not be forgotten that the whole path of happiness is not done without effort (see the example of the cross, or even, from our own reality, the pains of birth).

Thus, opening ourselves to the opportunities God has reserved for us means struggle, effort, and often tears, but this does not mean unhappiness. Rather, it means walking a path marked by hope and the presence of God… a path inhabited by love! A love that leads us to be more and to go beyond our strengths and abilities; a love that makes us capable not only of realizing what we dream of or what we’re longing to be, but of realizing God’s dream for us by actively participating in God’s dream for humanity.

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