The question, “Who are you really?” is connected to the purpose God had in mind when calling you into existence. You are the person God wanted for that purpose. And so, discovering God’s purpose is the same as discovering who you really are. We saw earlier that God’s hopes for you and your own deepest desires are actually the same, and we saw how God makes these known to you (see chapter 17). Now let’s look at how this works.
Discovering God's purpose is the same as discovering who you really are.
People who are good at a sport or music or a craft often say it is something they love doing. The sacrifices they make and the hours they put into training are possible because they love what they are doing. Love makes a difference. It is the same for following one’s vocation, i.e., fulfilling the purpose of one’s life. Love is what makes it possible. People who realise how wonderful the gift of life is, and how wonderful the Giver is, can find themselves in love with God and all that God has made. It is love that accounts for the sacrifices they are willing to make. And who is going to put a limit on love?
God’s love has gone well beyond what was owing or necessary or “reasonable.” Those who see this can find themselves going beyond normal limits. After all, people in love do crazy things! Love can’t be reduced to something measured, calculated, or self-interested.
The special vocation of Christian husbands and wives is to mirror Christ’s own love for all of us. On the cross, God’s love is revealed as self-giving, unconditional, forgiving, faithful to the end, and life-giving. By their marriage vows, Christian husbands and wives commit themselves to that kind of love, to being a sign of what God’s love is like (see Ephesians 5:28-33).
Every Christian vocation participates in Christ’s own mission; it is a way of “being for others.”
The Holy Spirit writes in the heart and in the life of every baptised person a project of love and grace, which is the only way to give full meaning to our existence.
(Pope John Paul II)
Some choose a dedicated single life as a way of being “for others.” By giving up perfectly good options, including marriage, they make a statement with their lives: that even the good things of life don’t fully satisfy the human heart; we are made for more.
Many take vows and become religious sisters or brothers, supporting each other in community. They opt for a form of poverty and powerlessness that can move mountains.
There are people with power and wealth who can, at the stroke of a pen, eliminate jobs and make other people “superfluous.” Then there are people like the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Empty-handed, she brought vision and hope to places where there seemed to be only hopelessness and death. And the world respected her for this. When the history books of the future are written, her name will be remembered, while the people at the top of industry and commerce probably won’t even make the footnotes. It’s not that she was “different” from you and me. She started her life the same way we did. She was a very ordinary person, with even fewer opportunities than most of us have had.
Historically, religious sisters and brothers have been at the frontiers of providing education, hospitals, orphanages, and other forms of social ministry. Throughout the years, many other wonderful people, including other Christians and people of other faiths, have done similar things, but often as individuals. But religious communities have been able to continue these works beyond the lifetime of individuals. Today, governments and other organisations have taken over many of these works, and so communities of religious sisters and brothers look for new ways of ministering to human needs. Only the shapes and forms of religious life are changing.
History shows that whenever Christians have lost their enthusiasm or become lax, movements of renewal and reform have sprung up. These have taken many different forms, but all have involved a return to the stark challenges of the gospel. Some of today’s new movements involve loose-knit forms of community between individuals, married couples, families, and celibates who have consecrated themselves to living by the gospel while remaining at homes and at work. These “movements” are ways of experiencing communion more deeply. This helps the whole Christian community to recognize its own vocation to share Christ’s life.
Another way of being for others is to become a priest. To describe his own role in our lives, Jesus pictured himself as the good shepherd. In his time, the shepherd led his small flock out at the beginning of each day. Then he spent the whole day with them, leading them to better pastures. It was a very intimate relationship. He knew each sheep by name and they knew him. They knew he would help them, and they trusted him. He was there for them.
This is the image that the Church has used ever since to picture the role of those it calls “pastors.” Sometimes, priests have fallen short of this ideal. (And sometimes they receive more publicity than all the others who have faithfully given their lives for their people.)
To underline the importance of practicing what they preach priests are asked to put their lives where their mouths are. That is what celibacy is about. It is a way of saying “what I want you to know about God’s love for you is so wonderful that I am prepared to stake everything for it.”
A vocation to priesthood is not about being a special person; everyone is special. Nor is it about being “worthy”; indeed, no one is. It is about making visible what Jesus still does for his people. It, too, is a commitment, not just something one does because he “feels like it.” The pleasure comes later on, at those moments when you rejoice deeply because you have done something very special for someone, something that will matter to them forever and for which they came to you because you were a priest.
Someone who thinks they might be called to the priesthood does not need to know straight away if they are suitable, because others will help them decide that. After all, a vocation is not just about what we want to do. It is a calling from God through the Church.
The only question each person must be able to answer (one that no one else can answer for us) is “Am I willing?” Christ does the rest, no matter now ordinary we are. He’s got a way of revealing his power through human weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Slowly and thoughtfully read the following Scripture passage. Then, in prayer, speak with Jesus about what he meant when he said these things (let him do some of the talking):
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself would be visiting. And he said to them, “The harvest is rich but the laborers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers to do his harvesting. Start off now, but look, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Take no purse with you, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, let your first words be, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house. Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is put before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, ‘The kingdom of God is very near to you.’”
The seventy-two came back rejoicing. “Lord,” they said, “even the devils submit to us when we use your name.” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Look, I have given you power to tread down serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you. Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice instead that your names are written in heaven.”
Just at this time, filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, he said, “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children. Yes, Father, for that is what it has pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Then turning to his disciples he spoke to them by themselves, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.”
(Luke 10:1-9, 17-24)
Contemplate the scene painted by Matthew 14:22-33, where the disciples were in the boat being tossed about by the waves. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus came toward them. When they saw him walking on the water they were terrified. His reassuring words to them lifted Peter to another level. He heard Jesus say to them: “Be of good heart, it is I; don’t be afraid.” Faith in Jesus’ word enabled Peter to forget all else. He forgot the dangers, he forgot what others might say, he forgot himself and replied, “Lord, if it is you let me come to you upon the waters.” And Jesus said, “Come.”
“What can bring us happiness?” many say.
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord.
You have put into my heart a greater joy
than they have from abundance
of corn and new wine.
I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once
for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.
The Galilee Song
As I gaze into the night,
down the future of my years,
I’m not sure I want to walk
past horizons that I know!
But I feel my spirit called
like a stirring deep within,
Restless ’til I live again
beyond the fears that close me in!
So I leave my boats behind!
Leave them on familiar shores!
Set my heart upon the deep!
Follow you again, my Lord!