VI. The Sacrament of Holy Orders (Priesthood)
Being “called” is a very mysterious reality. Often when someone is called, they do not realize it or accept it for some time. This is especially true if your “call” is a religious call! We may begin to ask ourselves the questions: Who’s calling? How do I answer? Then again we may want to say: Stop calling! I’m too busy to take “calls” right now!
Each day in the community where I live we pray for Vocations. Today, when we speak of “call” or “vocation”, we often mean priesthood or religious life. But, what about the majority of people we know? Are they called? Do they have vocations?
Vatican II reminds us that by our baptism all Christians have a fundamental call to holiness.
All of us are invited into a very special friendship by God. How we live out that special relationship with God is as unique and different as we are!
How do we know what we are called to be? How do we know if we are called to a religious vocation? The key, of course, begins with self-understanding, prayer, and a willingness to allow ourselves to ask the questions. We often need to have other people share in the discernment process. A good spiritual director is a necessary element of any vocation discernment! So often we feel that we are the only ones who have these types of questions or feelings. We may feel we are the only one in the whole world who has been called! Of course the opposite is true.
Therefore, we cannot go through the discernment process on our own. We need to talk to those special people who know us well and speak to us honestly and directly. We may also need to hear the experiences of others and find strength in the shared pursuit of this mystery.
Go to the Scriptures to see how God has acted in the past. The prophets and the apostles all had different responses to their individual “call”. The enthusiasm with which they responded to God’s call varied. Some were willing to give up everything. Others did not want to respond at all! Knowing how God acted in the past can help us to understand how God may be acting in our life right now!
We often hear: “God’s ways are not our ways”. Certainly in the lives and events of Scripture this seems to be the case. From a human standpoint, God seems to act so illogically especially when calling individuals to accomplish some task. Our culture and “business” orientated approach to vocational discernment usually encourages us to try and find the most qualified person for the job. We seek the most experienced, the best educated, the most gifted! Yet, look who God chose! Moses, Sarah, David, Jeremiah, Mary, the apostles, and many others – people seemingly limited because of age or lack of skill but human beings in tune with the reality of God’s presence in their lives.
Do we at times put ourselves down because we feel that we are not worthy enough? Or good enough? Or talented enough? Do we put ourselves down because we are not perfect? Do we rule out the possibility of a religious vocation because we are all too aware of our “humanness”? If so, we may be overlooking the very gift that God has given us to serve the Church.
For some tragic reason we may be too blind to see the unique gift we can bring to religious life. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said to the apostles.
To us, this may sound very vague and unclear. Most of us want clarity. We want a job description before we say yes! We want to know our benefits. We want to know what is expected of us. Yet, when we receive the call, Jesus simply says, “Come, follow me”.
Our need for control and certainty can prevent us from responding to the invitation of Jesus. Our concerns and anxieties about the future can often be paralyzing and can minimize our freedom of choice. And yet the questions remain – am I motivated by my faith or controlled by my fears? What is it that is getting in the way of my response to God? Why do I feel so unfree at times? Unable to move forward?
Again experience in the Scriptures can assist us. While God’s action in our lives may seem illogical and vague, God’s call or invitation is never in the abstract. God calls each of us personally, by name. And God called in the present. These two realities can help us as we try to determine our best response to God’s invitation.
Since God calls us by name, our response can only be from the unique individuals that we are. We respond with our own talents and abilities, our own shortcomings and limitations. As Peter was different from Paul and Mary from Martha, so each of us is different and so is our response. We respond to God in a way that is not better or worse than others just uniquely different.
God calls us always in the present. Jesus called his followers at a particular moment in history. They answered accordingly, out of their culture and time frame, out of a whole series of relationships. Today’s disciples are no different. The circumstances and people in our lives help to clarify our response to God. We live in the 20th century with uniquely rich backgrounds and special human relationships.
Being attentive to our experience will provide the clarity we need. God’s call is mysterious and unclear. Knowledge of ourselves, acceptance of our strengths and weaknesses, and self awareness are crucial in helping us respond. But it is the realization that God is present NOW inviting each of us to a deeper friendship that is the source of this call. It is the promise of Jesus, “I will be with you always” that makes our response possible.