In the readings for last Sunday (3rd Sunday Ordinary Time Mk 1:14-20, 1 Cor 7:29-31, Jonah 3:1-5,10) the prophet Jonah says, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” In Hawaii this last week, there was a false alarm alert that said there were incoming missiles. The all clear signal, and notification that it was a false alarm, did not come until 38 minutes later. So effectively the cry went up, “Forty minutes and this town shall be destroyed!” Were you perhaps there? If you were not, have you put yourself in that position and tried to imagine how you might have felt and done? We do not know when the end will come. Today’s readings show us the urgency of fashioning a new beginning. To do this, it is helpful to work backwards, and imagine our end. The people of Hawaii were forced to do this last weekend. Reflecting back on the experience, a person who went through the Hawaii false alarm said, ‘The things we spend so much time worrying about every day, that we get frustrated about, anxious about, these all just evaporate at times like this.” This a helpful insight; so much of what we spend our time and energy on in life, really is unimportant when it comes to the end of our life. Like St. Paul says, “This world as we know it, is passing away.” We have a choice of how we spend our time. Do we choose to spend it on things that are passing away, or on things that are eternal and that will matter at the end of our lives on our judgement day?
To live a vocation is to fashion our lives to spend the maximum amount of time on things that are eternal. To help us do this, a meditation on the end is a good place to start. Another way to do this was suggested to me in a book called What Color is Your Parachute, by Richard Bolles. He suggests writing our autobiography, then going back and highlighting in yellow the parts that brought us the greatest joy. Before I became a Franciscan Friar, I was working as an electrical engineer in the aerospace industry. After about ten years of working I took the time to do this exercise. I wrote a very detailed, about seventy-five page autobiography, but found that there was very little Yellow highlight! I had been working very hard, and was successful in my career, but what did I have to show for all that work? A box of electronics, that in the end, would just pass away. The things I had highlighted were the times I volunteered to help others or be involved in my Church. This exercise helped me change my life, and I eventually became a Franciscan Friar.
Today’s Gospel also shows us the correct priorities in our life. Jesus walks by the Sea of Galilee, and sees Andrew, Simon, James and John. They are fishermen, and James and John are with their Father. They leave both job and family, to follow Jesus. I have heard that the correct ordering of priorities in life is just this: God, family, then job. But I think this passage may be showing us something slightly different. I suggest that the correct priority is: God, family, ministry, then job. Ideally, one’s job and ministry are the same! (Although I know that is difficult, and many do not achieve that.) Ministry, defined as what we do to share in the ministry of Christ for the salvation of others and the building up of the Church, is more important than what we do to put food on the table and the roof over our heads. Looking more closely at this correct ordering of priorities: God, family, ministry, job, can give us a helpful guide for living our vocation.
The first step of a vocation is to know and love God.
Our ministry or vocation is to share in the ministry of Christ for the salvation of the world. God certainly knows what would be the best way for us to participate in that mission. So, to find our call or vocation, we must learn to know and love God, and hear from Him what that mission might be. One of the most important ways we do this is through prayer. A serious disciple of Jesus must pray daily. The prayer should be a listening prayer, where Jesus teaches us, just as he taught the disciples. The best listening prayer for finding your vocation is to meditate on the Gospels. The Gospels are not just the words and example of Jesus who lived two thousand years ago. When we pray with the Gospels, we can encounter the Risen Jesus Himself, through the Holy Spirit. He leads us as we pray by revealing to us through the scenes in the Gospel how He sees the world. As we compare our lives to what we read, He reveals His will for our lives. (After meditating a while, I like to continue to pray by journaling.) In addition to daily private prayer, we must also be involved in the life of the church and most importantly regularly and often receiving the sacraments. In the sacraments we receive the very presence of God, and by His Grace we are transformed into the likeness of Christ. We keep close to Jesus our Lord and Savior and our guide in ministry.
The Second Step is to love family (and others)
Jesus has summarized the great commandment as love God and love others. Filled with God’s love, we love others and bring them to the love God has for them. Love requires another. We as humans are called to love others starting with those closest to us; our family. It is not irresponsible to love God above family, because we are all children of God who loves our family even more than we do. We can trust in God’s providence, and by trusting in Him we’ll be able to best love and provide for our families. And, of all the things we do to love and provide for our families, bringing them to become followers of Jesus and to recognize that God is our highest priority is the most loving thing we can do for them. So, the second part of our vocation, is to love others and bring them to Christ, starting with those closest to us, and through them, working outwards towards all our family in Christ.
The Third Step is to find our ministry
Our ministry is the concrete way we use our time and talents and treasure to share in the ministry of Christ. In the Gospel, Jesus took fisher men, and reoriented their skills and ‘work’ towards His mission and made them fishers of men. The exercises mentioned above, of writing your autobiography and highlighting the parts that brought you joy, or of meditating on the end, are ways to help us identify the things in life worth living for. Our ministry is to shape our life to do more of these, and less of things that in the end only “evaporate.” We all have gifts and talents that God gave us, and we enjoy using. But we also have the choice of how to use them. Will we use them on things of the world, or things eternal? Our vocation is to use these to share in Christ’s ministry: the salvation of others, the preaching of the Gospel, and the building up of the Church.
As I look back on my life, I can see that I still use many of the same gifts and talents as a friar and a priest that I was using as an engineer. (E.g. I design things, manage budgets, manage people, give presentations, etc.) Now as a Franciscan Priest, at the end of the day, I can tell God, ‘Lord I’ve given it my all today.’ But unlike before, I know now that I’ve given “My all” doing things that matter to God. I’ve shared in His Mission. I pray this article will help you follow Jesus better and to find your role in His Mission. Join us on our next Come & See experience on February 16 – 18, 2018. Go here for more details.
This article is a summary of a longer homily by Fr. Paul. Watch the full homily and download a study guide to help you ‘work’ on finding your vocation in the video entitled “Take a Short Course on Discernment” at the bottom of the study page of this website .