On a recent discernment retreat, our Novice Master, Fr. Giles Zakowicz OFM Conv., related a story he heard from author Nikos Kazantzakis, that goes roughly as follows. While researching monastic life, Nikos as a young man visited a monastery on Mount Athos in Greece, to interview the much older Abba of the monastery. Nikos asked the Abba,
“So, what do you do here? “
The Abba replied, “We fight and wrestle.”
Surprised, Nikos asks “With the other Monks?”
Oh no, replies the Abba we don’t fight each other.
Nikos asks “Then perhaps the world?”
“No, we don’t fight the world.”
“Do you fight yourselves?”
No, answered the Abba, “We do not fight ourselves.”
Thinking harder, Nikos, says “Ah, you fight the Devil!”
No, no, we do not fight with the devil.”
Finally, Nikos asks, “Well, then who do you fight?”
“God” replies the Abba.
Nikos exclaims “You fight with God? And you hope to win!”
“No, one day, I hope to lose!” replies the Abba.
There really are three ways we relate to God. We can totally ignore God. We can perfectly follow God, or we can wrestle with God. Many ignore God. Few perfectly follow God. Usually, we find ourselves wresting with God, and foolishly hoping to win! (In Genesis 32:22-32, Jacob wrestles with God, and surrenders after a long fight, but is crippled before he receives God’s blessing. The wound will serve to remind him that it is useless to wrestle with God.) The analogy of wrestling with God describes how many of us go about finding our Vocation in life. It is a blessing that people reading this article want to serve God. But many of us want to serve God, OUR WAY. For example, we tell God e.g., ‘I want to get married and serve you. I want to serve you as a doctor, lawyer, or as a priest or religious. I want to make money and thank you by giving back.’ Our list goes on and on, of the many ways we want to serve God. But as well intentioned as they may be, are they what God really wants from us?
As vocation director and a religious I talk to many people who say, ‘I want to be married’. But I wonder, can you really say that being married will be what is best unless you know the person who you will marry? Marriage is not an abstract idea, it is a committed lifelong relationship to a specific person, whom God has brought into your life, because that person will help you become holier, and help you grow in ways you never imagined. To find such a person, is less a matter of our imagining who we want to marry and then going to look for that person, than it is to getting to know many people, and paying attention to the signs God gives along the way of who is the one who helps us become holier. (The same abstract thinking can also be done by people seeking single or religious life. It is hard to say I want to be a religious or a priest, without already living a life of prayer, service and simplicity and finding in that way of life; joy, passion and peace.) Finding our vocation is not a matter of abstract thinking about the future, but of looking at where God is now in your life.
So How than do I go about finding my Vocation?
A Vocation is nothing more than taking our Baptism seriously. In baptism, we were not only born again by water and the Spirit to eternal life, but we were anointed to share in the ministry of Christ, who was Priest, Prophet and King. A vocation is to share in the ministry of Christ. If it is the ministry of Christ, does it not follow that He should direct our ministry according to his purpose? Christ’s ministry can be simply described; to love and serve God and others. Our vocation is nothing more than to love God and others, in the manner directed by the Master. We find that vocation not by abstracting a way of life in the future, but by serving now, today, in the manner God shows us, and then reflecting on our experiences to identify where God was truly present and is directing us. In other words, it is much more of a gradual day by day journey, than it is a great decision about our future. Whatever we do or become, is simply the next step in a long journey. If God calls you to marriage, as you serve and prayerfully reflect on your life, God will show you who you’re called to marry. Same for being a religious or a doctor or lawyer, etc.
On a recent retreat, we were given an example of this way of discerning by Sister Sara, a Verbum Dei Missionary Sister, who shared how she found her vocation by getting in touch with, and responding to, her deepest desire. While working as a physical therapist, and dating, a young patient asked her to tell her about God. That question touched her deepest desire, to share the Good News of Jesus with others. That was one of the ways she knew she was called to be a missionary sister. As she became associated with the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity while serving, she recognized that she longed to share the Good News with others as a Sister of their community. God does not guide us by abstractions but by the concrete situations in our lives.
Richard Bolles, in an appendix to his classic book called “What Color is your Parachute”, describes a vocation as having three parts; 1) Love and serve God, 2) Love and serve neighbor, and 3) finding where your gifts and talents meet the world’s need. There is a common aspect to all our calls; to love and serve God and neighbor. But each of us has a unique way to do that, based on the gifts, talents, and desires God has already given us. So, to find your vocation requires that we start today, serving and loving God and neighbor the best way we know. Then, while prayerfully reflecting on that experience, God will lead us to our unique way of serving and loving. And, God will put us in the situations and places, where he needs us to work.
Does this mean we should not ask the question am I called to be married, or a priest, or a religious? I do think the question is valid and important. But the answer doesn’t come as much by looking forward into the future, as it does by prayerfully looking back, and seeing what experiences have touched our deepest desire and brought us the greatest joy. Begin a life of prayer, especially listening prayer, and pray regularly. Live simply, detaching yourself from the materialism and consumerism of our society. Live a life of service. As you do these things, prayerfully reflect on your experiences and your heart. Ask the question, are these things touching my deepest desire? Does it fill me with joy, and passion? If so, then priesthood and religious life might be what God is calling you to. Go on a Come & See weekend with a religious order or diocesan seminary. Volunteer for activities that allow you to work with priests and religious. Get more involved in your parish. God will lead you, to where you can best serve.
Are you wrestling with God? That is, are you still telling God how you want to serve Him? Why not surrender by focusing on a life of prayer, simplicity and service, and prayerfully reflect on your experiences to discover your unique way to serve and love. Everyone has a vocation by baptism. It is a sharing in the ministry of Jesus. It is not something that begins one day in the future, when we finally choose a way of life to serve. It begins TODAY by loving and serving, and following the Master day by day.
Learn more about discernment, and the Franciscan way of loving and serving and praying. Come on our next Franciscan Come & See weekend, April 28-30, 2017 in Castro Valley, CA. Click here for more details. Peace and All Good.