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May 1, 2006

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'Lord, that I may see!'

By FATHER JAMES HUGHES

When I was visiting a high school recently, a young male student timidly approached me and asked, “What do I do if I feel God is calling me to the priesthood?” Later that day a young woman in Grade 11 confided in me her wish to become a religious sister.

Students like these might be alienated by their peers if they admitted to such thoughts openly; it’s ironic that there seems to be an atmosphere where these feelings are becoming more pronounced.

The recent airing of a reality TV show called God or the Girl on the A&E network has certainly added testimony to this fact. Four young men, who claim to work through the tension of trying to understand their call from God, are placed in a position of choosing between priesthood and married life. These four true-to-life stories convey the types of situations of young Catholics as they make decisions for their lives.

Unfortunately, with the pressures of the world for success, security, prominence, and leaving a legacy, young Catholics attempting to discern a vocation to priesthood, religious life, married life, or single life may put too much emphasis on making the “crucial decision” and too little on building their relationship with God.

As this show may reflect the “reality” of what many young people encounter in deciding upon their vocation in life, the title, God or the Girl, projects a fundamental blemish upon the discernment process: is there really a choice between “God or the Girl?”

We cannot remind ourselves enough to ask Who is doing the calling; God has chosen us for a specific vocation, therefore we can only respond to His call. Coming to know our vocation in life takes time, and the length of that discovery can vary from person to person. Trying to put a discernment process into five episodes is anything but realistic!

As much as I commend the efforts of the writers of God or the Girl to present the very real situation of deciding upon God’s call, there is very little glamour to “figuring it out.” Vocation candidates today often discover their calls in very similar ways: they are faithful to their prayer life, they desire to follow the teachings of the Church, and they give earnest service to the local parish and by volunteering in the local community.

Above all, when they submit that “they don’t have it all together” or have natural feelings of unworthiness to accept a vocation, it is a more sure sign, as they strive for the Gospel ideal with God’s help.

Our faith tradition gives us the map to vocation discernment. The healing of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar (Mark 10:46-52), has a lesson for those discerning a vocation; there should be far less emphasis on the individual deciding and more upon seeking God’s mercy and love and allowing Him to be your guide.

Despite his frailty and his reasons for discouragement, Bartimaeus persevered in seeking out the Lord. He was courageous enough to approach the Lord when He called, and was humble enough to express his deficiency to God, trusting that Jesus had the power and the compassion to heal.

From his begging to his healing, Bartimaeus knew that it was not easy, yet his perseverance and humble confidence is his true strength and success. Jesus asked the blind beggar, “What do you want me to do for you?” and the humble prayer of Bartimaeus says it all, “Lord, that I may see!”

Just last week I was honoured to hear Archbishop Roussin call our five deacons to the holy priesthood. It has brought me great joy to have been part of their discernment process, application to the seminary, and formation as seminarians over the past seven years.

Hearing about the joys and sorrows and seeing growth in the vocations of the “soon to be ordained five priests” is to see God’s work at hand. One can also see God working with some who have left the seminary over the last few years because the priesthood is not their vocation. One can see how God continues to guide them to their rightful calling in life.

The key virtue of humility is a cornerstone of all vocations, especially the priesthood and religious life. It is important for the priest or religious to be confident to help others come closer to the Lord through the talents and foresight God has them. It is even more important, however, for priests and religious to have the humility to allow the Lord to lead them as he led His apostles up Mount Tabor to see a glimpse of His glory.

It is never easy to acknowledge weakness, yet it is edifying to know that God uses the frail limited nature of humanity to proclaim His power and mercy. Pope Benedict XVI made this point in his message for the upcoming World Day of Prayer for Vocations on May 7:

“In order to answer the call of God and start on our journey, it is not necessary to be already perfect. We know that the awareness of his own sin allowed the prodigal son to start on his return journey and thus feel the joy of reconciliation with the Father. Weaknesses and human limits do not present obstacles, as long as they help us to make us more aware of the fact that we need the redeeming grace of Christ.”

Young men and women discover their vocation in life through their relationship with Jesus. Here is my advice, that is far from complete, yet crucial to today’s discernment process of a vocation:

Stay close to the humble Christ in the Eucharist and you will eventually find the clarity you seek. Trust Him to know what is best for you. Seek the sacraments as tangible ways to humbly accept all that the Lord allows and provides you. Be patient. Find a spiritual director who will assist you in solid steps of growth in your relationship with Christ and your neighbour.

If you sense a call to the priesthood or religious life do not be afraid to find some objective answers to your questions. (Check web sites, seek the advice of your parish priest or a religious sister, call the Vocations Office, etc.)

Choosing to do the will of God takes sacrifice and courage “to follow Christ on the royal road of the Cross,” as the late Pope John Paul II proclaimed. Many can give those discerning all kinds of advice, yet the choice to do humbly what the Lord makes evident is the challenge for all who are called.

St. Francis de Sales shows us the right focus: “If I want only pure water, what does it matter to me whether it is brought in a vase of gold or of glass? What is it to me whether the will of God be presented to me in tribulation or consolation, since I desire and seek only the Divine will?”

Father Hughes is the Vocations Director of the Archdiocese of Vancouver. The office can be reached at 150 Robson St., Vancouver, BC V6B 2A7, 604-683-0281, www.vocationsvancouver.com.

 

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