Recently in the Church we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany.
The story of the Magi, on a journey, guided by a light from the heavens to give their gifts to Jesus, is an archetype of a Vocation. Simply put, our individual Vocation is to give our unique gifts that we bring on our life Journey, and give them to God, for His use, for the good of his kingdom. However, each of us also share a common Vocation. Our common vocation is illustrated by the fourth wise man! You didn’t know about the fourth wise man? Oh, let me tell you the story of Artaban!
Artaban was to meet up with the other three wise men early in the morning to embark on their journey to travel to give their gifts to the New Born King. He like the others, sold all he had, and traded it for a few small gems he could easily carry on the journey. He brought a ruby, sapphire, and a Pearl of Great Price, to give to the King. On the way to meet with the others, early in the morning, he saw a man at the side of the road, beaten by robbers. The man needed assistance. Artaban realized that if he were to stop to help the man, he will be late and miss the other three wise men who will leave without him. However, he chooses to have compassion on the victim of the burglars. After helping him, he travels on to meet the other three, and sure enough, they did not wait for him, but had already departed. Determined to still give his gifts to the King, Artaban sold his ruby to buy camels and provisions for his journey, and then he set out, late, in pursuit of the King. Many months later he arrived in Bethlehem, but again, he was too late. He heard crying, and saw soldiers going from door to door, slaughtering the baby boys, two years or younger, of all the families in Bethlehem. Artaban knocked at a door to a house where the soldiers have not yet arrived. He and asked a panicked young mother, “Is the new born King of the Jews still here?” She replies, “Joseph, Mary and Jesus have fled to Egypt, and are safe, but Sir, can you help me and my child? The soldiers are about to come and slay my child.” Artaban again chooses to act with compassion, and takes the mother and her child into his caravan, and they flee from the village. After they have traveled a safe distance, he gives them the sapphire so they can also flee to Egypt for two years, before it is safe to return. They part ways and Artaban continues to search for the King, to give his remaining gift to Him. He searches for 33 years!!! Artaban is discouraged, he has lived most of his life, in pursuit of his goal trying to give his gifts to the King, but has not succeeded. One day he hears the King has been arrested and is undergoing a trial in Jerusalem. He takes his little remaining money and his one last gift, the Pearl of Great Price, with him and travels to Jerusalem. He arrives late again! He sees from afar the King, crucified, surrounded by an angry mob, and Roman soldiers. He is wondering to himself, how he can get to the King to give his last remaining gift, when he notices among the commotion all around, a young family being sold into slavery for a debt they cannot pay. He is moved to help, but only has his one last gift he had hoped to give to the King. He hesitates, but again moved with compassion, he gives the pearl to the family, and they are able to buy their freedom with it. Now Artaban feels like a complete failure in his life’s dream, to give the King his gifts. Just then, a heavy tile from the roof he is standing beneath falls on him, imparting a mortal blow. He lies looking up to heaven in the last few moments of his life, and he whispers a prayer, “Lord, I tried so hard all my life, to offer you my gifts, but I was unable, I am sorry.” He hears, in his heart a voice he recognizes as coming from Heaven. “Artaban, whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers or sisters, you have done unto me.” Artaban smiles as he breathes his last, because now knows that the King really did receive his gifts!
This story, is my retelling of a fictional story written in 1895 by Henry Van Dyke, entitled “The Other Wise Man”. It beautifully illustrates the common aspect our vocation. Along the way, of our unique journey (or vocation) to give our gifts and talents to the service of the King, we all share a common vocation as well; to incarnate God’s Love to all those we meet along the way of our life. This aspect of our vocation is just as important as our unique vocation. So if you perhaps feel, you have not yet found that special way to use your gifts and talents for God’s Kingdom, do not feel purposeless, for you are still called to generously give your gifts to those you meet along the way. Who knows, maybe God needs you just where you are now, even if you feel lost, so you can show his Love to those you are in contact with. But please allow me to spent the remainder of this blog to talk more about our individual vocation.
Does God have a special purpose or a plan for your life? Yes, God does, but it is up to you to follow the light from heaven, His guidance, to find where to place your gifts in service of the King. God gave each of us unique gifts and talents; not gold, frankincense or myrrh, but e.g. teacher, musician, painter, engineer, public speaker, singer, prophet, listener, server, etc. If God gave us these gifts, certainly He meant for us to develop and USE THEM! So finding our vocation is largely about recognizing and developing our talents, and then using them to serve God. We have a choice of how we use our gifts and talents. I can use them to serve God, or I can use them to serve myself. A Vocation is using our gifts and talents, to serve God and His Kingdom. E.g. if I am an actor, I can act in movies that promote God, or His values, or I can work in movies that do little for his kingdom, or worse even promote values against His Kingdom! In each of these three choices I may find joy in using my gifts, because I enjoy acting. However, the GREATEST JOY of ALL comes when we use our gifts to serve God who gave us those gifts! In this way we receive the earthly joy of using our gifts, and the eternal Joy, and fulfillment, of working for His Kingdom!
We all have a vocation by virtue of our baptism, when we vowed to die to self and live for God’s kingdom. But it does seem difficult in this world to find a way to use our gifts and talents and still make a living! Being a Franciscan is a great gift for many reasons, but one is because it does seem to solve this difficulty! It is a very practical way to be freer to follow God’s will. We Franciscans live in simple communities (the vow of poverty) and minimize our costs. The income of each friar goes into our central bank account, and each friar receives only what he needs to live. The income from friars earning larger salaries using gifts that are more marketable in this world, allows other friars to earn less using their gifts that may not pay as well. That allows us to better try to recognize the gifts and talents of each friar, and find how they are called to give them for the good of God’s kingdom. Friars discern the way they will serve God, not independently, but in the context of the needs of the community and our ministerial commitments. This is fulfilling of our vow of obedience. Through this obedience, the Lord really helps us to find ways to use our unique gifts and talents for His kingdom. For Example, before I entered the Franciscan Order I was an electrical engineer working in the aerospace industry. When I became a Franciscan I was thinking I would leave all that behind. But to my pleasant surprise, the Lord allowed me to use some of those gifts and talents in a new way. I became a teacher at one of our high schools. The first year I taught religion and was an assistant basketball coach. But after the school administration learned I was an engineer, in my second year I taught physics in addition to religion and coaching. I think it was a powerful witness to kids, that science and religion can go together. Next I went to serve at a parish in a poor area and opened a food pantry and started an after school program. The food pantry was “high tech” with computer software I developed with client family information and pictures so client members found we were able to recognize them as people with names without them needing to show ID. We were able to even buy age appropriate Christmas gifts for their children! Our after school program included tutoring, sports and art, and my background in each of these helped make those programs better. I even tutored and coached! The technical writing skills I developed before becoming a friar, by writing proposals to win government contracts for expensive weapon systems, now were used to write grant requests and raise funds, as much as $150,000 a year, to run these programs for the poor!
God similarly continues to surprise me, and all our Friars! Some friars who were actors, bank executives, teachers, business managers, accountants and more before they entered the order, find ways to use those skills now to further our order’s ministries. Those who enter younger are no exception, as each still must discern how God is calling them to use their gifts and talents in the service of our order, and His Kingdom!
In our Baptisms, we put our lives in God’s hands. A Franciscan Vocation is a way to live out that baptismal call, by putting our lives in God’s hands, in the context of a community of brothers. We the members of that community seeks to serve God, by being obedient one another, living with nothing of our own but rather having all things in common, and in chastity or right relationship with all God’s people. Is your Vocation is with us also? Consider coming to our “Come and See” weekend, February 12 -14.