A reflection for Good Shepherd Sunday April 29, 2012.
‘How do we, as followers of Jesus, discern our calling in life?’ That was the question I faced as I recently (in March 2012) prepared to talk to a few young men in their 20′s and 30′s, about discerning vocation. So I wrote a Letter to three other young men whom I have known for a number of years,- but changed their names to ‘Conor, Jim and J.P’. Obviously I was writing for young men, in this situation, but I would write somewhat the same for young women, if I was in a similar situation. So, if any of you women are reading this, just change it as appropriate. Here goes:
“Each one of you has been called by name, by Jesus’ – John Paul 2 to millions of young people, over many years.
Dear Conor, Jim, and J.P.,
I’m asked to talk about discerning one’s vocation in life, to a few young men who are coming this weekend. So I decided to put my thoughts on paper in the form of a letter to yourselves. I hope you don’t mind! It helps me to focus. Here goes!
Life is Gift! Your life, your humanity, your whole person is Gift from God. The talents and abilities you have, the imagination, the experiences you have had, the wisdom you have gained, the energy within you, the heart you have for people,- all of these are a Gift to you from the Creator. I thank God for the gift that you are to the world and to people.
Through your childhood years and adolescent years, you were discovering more and more the abilities you have. Each of you comes with your own particular combination of talents and abilities, of personality, of family and home background, of the background of the community you live in and the schools you went to. As young adults, you are further discovering things about yourself as you reach out to others, and as you spend time with yourself and your God.
What is there of faith and love in you? What is there that gives you hope? What dreams lie within you, perhaps unopened yet? What is your heart’s deepest desire? For what do you long, in life? What do you long for in the immediate, and what do you long for, long-term? If now you could stand and imagine yourself near the end of your life, looking back, maybe, at the age of 80 or so,- what would like to have done with your life? What would give you deepest joy, then?
And maybe now,- what would give you deepest joy in your life, at this crossroads in your life? Have you chosen what you really want to do with your life? Can you ask yourself this question, as was once asked of me in my early twenties: ‘What, deep down, do you want to do with your life?’ Is there an answer that comes to you? Maybe not, and that’s ok. But it’s worth spending time, sitting with that question in your heart, over a period of time, until the answer emerges.
An Indian Redemptorist,- who later became a Cardinal- spoke in Limerick about his own vocation. He told us that he had been at University, in his early 20’s, and studying science. He asked himself the question: ‘If I looked back on my life at the age of 80, what would I really want to have done with my life?’. It was then that he decided to become a Redemptorist Priest, to give his life to Jesus Christ for people and for the Gospel.
What do you think that God is asking of you, in the deeper parts of your heart? Maybe he is inviting you (he only invites!) to become a really good husband and father. That is a real vocation, and a way of doing God’s work. Or maybe he is asking you to be single in the world, and consecrated to him, and to being a faithful follower of Christ, serving people in the world as Christ would. Or maybe he is inviting you to become a consecrated religious, part of a community of people with a focus on a particular ministry that is needed in the Church and world? You could join a group whose lives are dedicated to prayer for the whole church, day by day,- for example, the Cistercians or Benedictines. Or you could think about the Jesuits -or the Society of Jesus- and become highly trained in some field of work and dedicate yourself to using your talents and training for God’s people. There are Carmelites, Dominicans, Franciscans, each with their own focus and purpose, for the sake of the body of Christ, the Church.
I think you know a bit about us Redemptorists already, but anyway let me tell you a little about us. We are a Congregation of priests and brothers, under the title of the Most Holy Redeemer. Our focus is preaching the Gospel in all sorts of ways, and being close to people wherever we are. We seek out the abandoned, or those tragically neglected (by society or church!), and try to walk with them, and bring Good News to them,- to show them the wonder of themselves, their human dignity, their call to holiness, each one of them. We try to be the face of Christ with them, so that their faces and hearts light up with his joy. Our work may bring us to preaching in parishes or cities; or to working in some of the poorest parishes or areas or districts. We reach out to the young, to bring them joy also. Or our work may be by means of prayer, in times of ill-health or age. We live and work as communities, big or small, with the same heart for God’s people. The Redeemer, Jesus himself, is our model and our companion. We put our talents into his hands, for him to use them as he knows best.
As Irish Redemptorists, we work not only in Ireland, but also in the Philippines, in Brazil, and just now we are beginning, this year of 2012, a formal Mission presence in Mozambique/Malawi, where there are millions of people and very few preachers of the Gospel. We begin very small, and with just a few people, Redemptorists and lay co-workers, but we trust in the LORD! We feel he wants us there.
So, how do you go about deciding? You do it by listening, first of all and most of all, to your own heart. You pray about it, asking guidance around what to do with your life, with that Gift. You keep listening to your heart over a long period. Here, it is good to keep a journal of what is going on, in you. Meantime, you ask questions of some people you trust. You make enquiries. You seek information. You meet people and see them at work. All the time, ‘pray as if it all depends on God, and work as if it all depends on you!’
And the Priesthood. Maybe, you feel called to work as a diocesan priest, located in one diocese and serving God’s people there, in whatever parish or ministry your Bishop sends you to. These men do wonderful work for God. Or you might consider becoming a religious priest, a priest in one of the orders or congregations in the church, as I mentioned above. These too have their particular focus, within the ‘orchestra’ or ‘choir’ that is the Church.- all with different roles.
Or there is the Brotherhood: for example, you might consider becoming a Redemptorist Brother, developing and honing all your skills, getting training, and then serving God’s people as a brother, doing many different kinds of service, for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. As Redemptorists we are all brothers of each other, but some are also ordained priests.
Coming to a decision:
And so, if you opt to try one group or another group, what then? You spend time with them, you discern (that word again) if this is for you. And the group also discerns if you fit well with them! Discernment is both ways,- you look at them, and they look at you! And then, through prayerful discernment, you both come to a decision.
‘I would love to live as a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding’: (I think I got that in a dream, some few years ago!) The Lord direct your searching.
Your brother in Christ,
Seamus Devitt, Redemptorist, March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, 2012.
Addendum: (written April 23, 2012):
This Christianity thing is a real paradox, and throws us some curved balls, as they say in American Baseball language: for example, Jesus throws this one to us,- ‘If you want to find your life, you must lose it!’ Read it in Matthew 8:35 like this; ’For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.’ (from New International Version/NIV); or try this from the New Living Translation 2007 –‘If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.’
ie. the more you empty the vessel of your heart,- for Christ and the spread of his Gospel,- the fuller it will be! When you’re empty, then you’ll be full! There’s a paradox for you, and I think the One who said it knows what He’s talking about. You might consider consulting the Holy Spirit, quietly and with others, for an understanding of it 4u!
P.S. You might find some soul-food to help you in this, in www.emptifulvessels.com