Usually referred to in the context of priestly ordination, "vocation" is actually a concept that is pertinent to all members of the Catholic Church. The vocation of a person represents the type of life that this person will choose to lead in relationship to the Church. Catholics are able to select from one of four types of vocations: priesthood, religious life, marriage and single life.
Upon receiving the gift of baptism into the Christian faith, a person also receives a "calling" from God, according to Catholic doctrine. This doctrine is based on a Biblical precedent: "God's gifts and his call can never be withdrawn (Romans 11:29)." By seeking to understand God's calling for his life, a believer will attempt to understand what type of role he should fulfil in the Catholic Church. He is able to select from one of four vocations. However, no single vocation is more important than the others. Rather, God calls different people to fill of the different vocations, and each of these vocations serves to help the Church remain healthy and vibrant.
A clear example of the patriarchal structure of the Catholic Church exists in the fact that Catholic priests occupy a distinct vocation while Catholic nuns do not. A nun is not approved to fulfil the same functions of a priest, which include administering sacraments and listening to private confessions. However, both nuns and priests share in common the fact that they must practice lives of celibacy. Priests are also expected to visit those who are suffering from illnesses, or to counsel those who are suffering problems such as marriage difficulties, incarceration or chemical dependency.
In addition to priests, the Catholic church benefits from the commitment and spiritual support of many people who function behind the scenes, brothers and sisters. These people devote themselves exclusively to the Church, taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. This means that they will live where they are assigned, refrain from involvement in romantic or sexual relationships and follow the guidance of their superiors. Monks and nuns function in this vocation, and much of their austere lives are spent both in communal prayer and in general service to the Catholic community.
Marriage is the only vocation in which sex is permitted. However, intimacy trumps sex in a Catholic marriage, and sex is not to be considered an on-demand commodity. Rather, a man and a woman who are united in marriage are urged to cherish their wedding vows: "Till death do us part. In sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or worse." They are also encouraged to view their bodies as sacred vessels of life, capable of producing families. Both parents and children are invited to participate as volunteers in the Catholic Church. In fact, married men can fulfil the function of Deacons in the Church, who are responsible for preaching, teaching, administering the Holy Communion and tending to the needs of marginalised members of a congregation.
Some people may not voluntary choose to be single. However, if not yet married, members of the Catholic Church must recognise themselves as single. This means that they must live a life of celibacy, prising chastity above promiscuity. Single members of the Church are able to help their churches in ways that married persons cannot. They are invited to invest their time, money and talent to allow the Church to reach out to the community. Furthermore, unlike married couples, these individuals are often able to relocate if necessary in order to assist as missionaries or even as envoys.