Unrepeatable: Cultivating the Unique Calling of Every Person



by Luke Burgis and Joshua Miller, PH.D.

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.



The number of testimonies at the beginning of this book would certainly prompt one to take seriously the need to read this text. It is a worthwhile task. I have been concerned about the need to pay attention to the vocation of those who have been deemed ‘homeless’ as there seems to be a disconnect once a person receives housing. Now we have several organizations who have as their mission a mentoring of people who have food and housing but need support in continuing to forge ahead in the ordinariness of the daily job. In the introduction of the book, the author states: “This book is how we can know and love others authentically by entering into their stories and paying attention to their unique ‘unrepeatable essence’, which bears the fingerprints of God. We focus on how parents, coaches, educators and other adult leaders (mentors) can cultivate the vocations of young people in their care (mentees).” He unravels the life of Bob Dylan and states that Dylan made powerful music because he was “tuned into the great symphony of life”. The author continues his analysis of the importance of the individual by reminding us that our Pope stated that each individual is the primary and fundamental way for the Church. He goes on to say that we as Church are not about programs or methods but about persons. We need to know people’s stories. “We don’t unite ourselves to Christ in an abstract way. The union happens in the real, concrete, historical circumstance of life… The nature of the union changes with the seasons of life.”


“Every vocation is a call to love in a unique and unrepeatable way.” Cultivating another’s vocation or our own takes kindness, patience and genuine care for another like the love of Christ that St. Paul speaks about in Corinthians. By being with a person at a time when they are trying to figure out the realities of faith in Jesus Christ requires sacrifice including letting go of our own ideas about who he is and surrendering to God’s. The author then meditates with us on the story of the Samaritan woman and Jesus’ response. “Jesus shows us that sometimes we have to give people what they think they want in order to earn the right to give them what we know they need.” “Young people stand before us with buckets in hand waiting for someone to enter into their lives and awaken the kind of joy that makes them leave their buckets behind.” We need to notice our neighbor’s glory and tell others about it.


In the next section on knowing our culture, Burgis calls our culture one of liquid modernity, that is everything is fluid from identity to trash. The future fills us with anger and anxiety. Burgis deals with a culture of calculation in which the culture loves numbers. This is difficult for me to report as I do love numbers but I try to ask different questions that have to do with the people involved with the numbers. So I had the police academy count interactions that had a positive outcome. Most data that we read has the illusion of complete certainty. Another liquidated is that of disincarnating. The liquidation of everything solid: wood, relationships, families, and faith. In this regard, food will soon be added to this kind of disincarnation. We have a culture of conformity in which our identities, thoughts, and places we live are dependent on what the ‘major’ groups are promising. “A fresh and courageous perspective is needed to foster a culture of vocation. The culture of vocation fosters meditative though rather than calculating thought, prefers to touch a person rather than talk about an idea, and cultivates the freedom to imitate Christ rather than men. We begin to realize that God’s grace is an ocean, and we need only to let ourselves get wet. To the question of the old fish: “How is the water today.” We can answer with confidence-Everywhere.”


In Chapter 2, Joshua Miller states: “Every person comes into the world not as a blank slate but with a unique and innate behavioral orientation. Discovering this pattern is a critical step in vocational discernment because the pattern itself is already a kind of primordial call. We are free to choose all kinds of specific actions but not free to disregard the features of our own design. That would be like the proverbial tiger trying to change its stripes. Our choices always and everywhere take place in the context of a given essence, indicating the seeds of our personal vocation. The pattern is the abiding common denominator of one’s life. “God’s basic intention for the person.” In the section on the power of motivational design, the author describes the patterns that will assist us in our motivation: if the pattern is irresistible, if the pattern is insatiable, if the pattern is enduring, if the pattern is good, if the pattern is ordered toward love than we are living our primordial vocation.


In Chapter 3 Burgis discusses the personal vocation that is the unrepeatable word of everyday life. He describes for us the way people use the word vocation: vocation as being includes the fact that nothing is created without a purpose, from the first moment of its existence each thing has an end to which it is called; vocation as self-actualization includes the understanding of who we are and that the individualism idea of fulfillment lacks all sense of communion, of love and of the supernatural end to which we’ve called; vocation as the universal call to holiness includes the fact that we are all called to be saints and to live the heroism of ordinary life; vocation as state in life includes the state in which one is called to live and love; vocation as work includes dedicating ourselves to a specific job, task, or ministry. He further explains that there are six dimensions of the Christian calling: Trinitarian which begins at Baptism; Apostolic which transmits the faith; Christification of the cosmos transmits the voice of all creation; Soteriological transmits cooperation with Christ in the redemption of the world; Ecclesial transmits the sense that we build up the body of Christ; the Tria Munera transmits the three-fold ministry of every Christian: priest, prophet, and king.


In Chapter 4, this is a very powerful chapter in that it assists us in understanding the need for empathy in mentoring. “It’s hard getting to know others. If we want to help them become who they were created to be, though, it is imperative that we do so. Our Triune God is relational. We image Him. We are called by virtue of that fundamental reality to be relational, to know others and be known by them.” If we ask the right kind of open-ended questions and listen attentively we can significantly help mentors get to know their mentees well as build the kind of relational context in which effective vocational mentorship can take place. Mentors gain rich knowledge when they draw out the authentic story of their mentees while also providing them an important opportunity for growth in self-understanding, which is a critical part of cultivating personal vocation. The rest of the chapter helps the reader understand the important aspects of listening and how empathy plays such an important part of getting to know the person. In Chapter 5 the author states: “Through active love, we will build a culture of vocation because, despite the limits of our efforts, it will be the wonder-working power of the Lord loving and guiding us to our goal”


Chapter 7 gives us the keys for guiding effective discernment: teach personal vocation which includes the teaching through language; help mentees find their own way of discernment; explore connection between talents and motivational design; expose them to need and orient them to service; help them secure wise, attentive mentors; secure prayerful silence and listening; awaken them to self-creative freedom. In Chapter 8 Burgis discusses the outward thrust of vocation. “Following Christ is, in itself, a multidimensional mission. All of the baptized follow Christ by sharing in the three missions that Christ fulfilled in His work of salvation: the priestly, prophetic and kingly.” Our beloved Pope, in Evangelii Gaudium, states: “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus, we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries’ but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples’ “


This is an excellent book for an individual or a group of disciples to read together. It is written with clarity and love and a willingness to share their expertize with all who ponder the depths of their thoughts in this book. They are true followers of Jesus Christ and are very much in tune with the Church.

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