Friday, June 20, 2008

Happy Summer Vocation!

Dear Friends,
Peace and all good! I will be away on vacation until July 7 and will resume blog entries again after that date. In the meantime, I hope you will find this short reflection piece helpful. It first appeared in The Way of St. Francis magazine, a wonderful little bimonthly published by the Franciscan Friars, Province of St. Barbara. Check it out on our website: Or consider subscribing (only $15/yr for six issues and an excellent resource for information on Franciscan life and spirituality!): for subscription information. Happy Summer Vocation (and the rest of the year as well)!--Fr. Chuck

Discernment is a Verb

What should I do with my life? What is God asking of me? How can I be sure I’m not making a horrendous mistake?

My office phone will ring. A slight hesitation on the other end of the line, and then a quiet voices asks, “Is this the Franciscans?” “Well, yes, how can I help you?” “Well, I’m thinking of becoming one of you.” “Okaaaaay”. Then, we’re off and running.

I’m a vocations coordinator. My job is to help men (21-45, Roman Catholic, single) to know about the Franciscans and themselves, and whether or not God may be leading them to our religious community. During the course of a calendar year, I will personally speak to about 400 inquirers— just a little more than one a day. They may write or phone, or catch me after Mass. Increasingly these days, they’ll check out our website ( or our vocations blog ( and then dash off an email. In reality, though, only about one out of every hundred men who contact us will enter our community. So what about the other 99? Are they just chopped liver?

My work experience confirms my deep conviction that God is calling all of us. That everyone has a vocation—to know, love and serve God in this life and to be with God in the next-- as my childhood catechism put it so succinctly. Only a very few people will come to religious life, but the search is the same for us all. “How can I know what God is asking of me?” I don’t have the answers, but I can suggest a process that might help:

Pray. A lot. And on a regular basis. Make a daily appointment to spend time with God—and then keep it. Our Catholic tradition is a treasure trove of spirituality, so find a prayer style that suits you (lectio divina, centering prayer, etc.). And make Eucharist the center of your prayer week.

Shop around. I tell people. Look, the first thing you need to do is to look around. Pretend that you are planning an exotic vacation. Get as many ‘travel brochures’ as you can. Don’t worry about making a decision yet; just dream for once!

Share your secret. Preferably with someone you trust. The people who know us often know us a whole lot better than we suspect. They can give us very good feedback very fast. They know our personalities as well as many (but not all) of our talents, dreams, strengths and weaknesses. When I announced to my family that I wanted to become a Franciscan and a priest, I was shocked. Nobody even blinked. My sisters said, “Oh we knew that all along about you. But we didn’t say anything because we figured you needed to work that out for yourself.” Gee, thanks.

Get some help. Good help. We call this spiritual direction. Advice and accompaniment from someone (a priest, a religious sister or brother, a layperson) who has received specific training in this ministry. It is not a good idea to approach a busy pastor. Or someone who has no knowledge of ministry. The spiritual director will meet with you on a regular basis to listen deeply—very deeply—to what you have to say about yourself, your prayer life, your images and understanding of God, and so on. They won’t tell you what you should do. But they will tell you what you are saying about yourself. And what you keep saying consistently over time. Journaling is an important adjunct to this activity.

Get your hands dirty. If you’re thinking about working with the poor, for example, stop thinking about it. Get out there and work with them. So connect with an organization, preferably a church-based one, that needs volunteers and go for it.

Join a club. Only make sure you are an active member. Community is not for bystanders. Your parish is the perfect place to start.

Jump in! If you don’t put your body where you think your mind and heart ought to be, you’ll never know what God is asking or inviting you to do. Break down your decision into manageable parts… and then take that first step.

When we do these things-- gather information, share our secrets, find some help, get our hands dirty, and jump in-- we cannot fail to learn a great deal about who we are and how God may be calling us.

I repeat. Each of us has a vocation. We are all on a spiritual journey. But when we do the footwork, we cannot fail to grow spiritually and become more confident and secure in our decisions. So, if you haven’t done so already, turn your own discernment into a verb and see what unfolds.

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