Is prayer important? I say it is ESSENTIAL, especially to find one’s call in life. Allow me to share a rather common outline of a vocation story. (Not particular to any one person, but a collection of very common themes in both my life and in the lives of men I talk to discerning a call). One might say to me ‘Father, I have always believed in God, and prayed, but I have never found what makes me happy. I’ve gone to college, got a job, ran my own business, became famous and successful, but there is still something more. I’ve always wanted a soul mate, but none of my relationships have provided that… But one day in prayer, something happened. I can’t really explain it, but I’ve now found that the only time I’m really happy, really at peace, is in prayer; not just saying words, but in deep silence where I truly feel God’s presence. I am praying so much now, and find it so fulfilling, I think I’m called to be a priest (or religious brother or sister).’
When I hear someone’s journey that resembles the above, I give God thanks and Praise! The story shows how the person has found a great treasure, and that is a Good thing! But there is also something wrong with the story. Allow me to explain. First, the good. To find this great peace in prayer, this feeling that ‘This is what I’ve been looking for’, is a great treasure. Jesus likens this to a person who “…Happens to find a treasure hidden in a field. He covers it up again, and is so happy that he goes and sells everything he has, and then goes back and buys that field.” (Mt 13:44). In life, we must search for that treasure. Some find it sooner, some only after many careers and relationships, and some, sadly, never find it. That treasure really is an encounter with God. It is when we discover that God is not just an idea or concept, but a reality that we can encounter, and that we can experience, and it changes us. We are all meant to find this treasure! We all long for it! That is the way God built us! St. Augustine says ‘Our hearts are restless until they rest in You O Lord’.
Now the bad side of my above hypothetical vocation story. When someone does discover this treasure of an encounter with God, they often jump to the conclusion that they are called to “Religious Life” (as in they should be a priest, or religious brother or sister). That is not necessarily the case. We are all called to a “religious life”, or that is we are all called to a “Life of Holiness”. We are all called to have deep prayer lives, and to allow that relationship with God to guide all we do. Whether we are priest, brother, sister, married, a parent or a single person living in the world, whether we are a doctor, teacher, or construction worker, rich or poor, we are all called to be Holy, and to be in this close communion with Jesus. It is a miracle when we discover this, and we are all called to all search for it, find it, and share it with others!
What we idealize as a life of a monk or religious, being in close communion with God in prayer, and being holy, is what we are all called to and can all have. I agree that sometimes it can be easier when living with a group of people who have the same desire to be with God in prayer, can provide an environment that is more conducive to this, but it is also true that each of us can shape an environment that allows this to happen no matter where we find ourselves.
So no matter where you find yourself in this moment in your life, start now to build an environment that helps you live a “religious life”. Set aside time each morning, 30 minutes to 1 hour, to get up earlier and perhaps have a cup of coffee, and pray!! But I’m not talking about prayer that is you saying words memorized or read (even though these are good and valuable). I’m talking about LISTENING Prayer. I’m talking about BEING IN THE PRESENCE of GOD Prayer. Imagine Jesus sitting next to you. Perhaps on a park bench with the sun shining. Feel His presence like you would a good friend. Allow your hearts to connect. Open your feelings to Him. Open your mind to Him. Read scripture (especially the Gospels), imagine the scene. See it in your mind, put yourself in it. Put yourself in place of one of the characters, e.g. the woman at the well (Jn 4:1-41), or the blind Bartimaeus at the side of the road (Mk 10:46-52), or the rich young man who comes to Jesus (Mt 19:16-22). Allow Jesus to interact with you in the scene, and speak to you. We can truly encounter Jesus this way. Journal about your experience after.
After developing the habit of praying this way (or other ways that the Spirit leads you to), I trust that God will lead you to your vocation, your calling in life. It may be a career of service in the world, in a business or a non-profit. It may be as a married or single person, and yes it may also be as a priest, religious brother or sister. (For more how to pray I recommend books by Thomas Green, S.J.)
If your prayer does make you consider being a Franciscan Friar, come to our next Come and See to learn more about what that really is like. Then take that back into your prayer and see what Jesus has to say about it! Peace and All Good!