The psalm for this Sunday proclaimed: “O that today you would listen to the voice of the Lord. Do not harden your hearts!” This is exactly what I have been working on over the past few weeks in my prayer. It is not always easy to tune out the noise to hear God’s voice, however God’s voice is in our every day and every season. This week I share with you a reflection I recently wrote for a class. The psalm reminded me of it and and in it I hear God’s voice. God is indeed always at work and so I continue to work on listening because I truly believe we are each chosen and called.
However we might understand God’s will,
we should seek to find it revealed in our deepest desires.
– John Sachs in “The Christian Vision of Humanity”
We all seek meaning and purpose in life. We desire to be appreciated and valued, we expect our dignity and rights to be upheld and expect the golden rule to be the rule that guides our living. This is true for each human being no matter our walk of life, our situation, our religion, our orientation or our country of birth. It is in this seeking, this value, this dignity, this rule of living that our deepest desires intersect with other’s deepest desires and with the deepest desire of God. God’s deepest desire, I believe, is for all God’s children to know love and to love, for freedom to embrace God’s will and to know they are chosen and called.
Our deepest desires call us down many paths in life and we may be called many things throughout our life time, but “chosen, called and loved” are the greatest words spoken to each of us. Whether through family, friends, colleagues, peers, teachers, children, seniors or whomever, it is the voice of God that must be heard in our name being called – declaring us as chosen and loved.
One just has to turn to the gospel story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) to see how truly and madly and deeply in love God is with us and all creation. We can also see this dignity solidified in the letter of John when he declares, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (1 John 3:1). This is the dignity of vocation that is not a “flash in the pan moment” rather a process; a life time of being open to God’s will and listening for and seeking how it connects to our deepest desires. God knows our hearts and the good desires that are deep in our hearts so intimately that God desires for us to fulfill them for the betterment of the kingdom and the reign of love and justice. This is only possible through “practices of discernment” and embracing a “lifelong understanding of vocation” (K. Cahalan). I have come to see how this is true in my own journey but only upon reflecting on what has been and where I am today.
Understanding our whole lives as a calling takes time. When we are children we desire to be adults, when we are students we desire to be working, when we are working we desire to be retired and when we are retired we desire freedoms. This seeking and yearning can cause us to miss the moments of those particular years of our life and that of a lifelong vocation. We must live the seasons of our lives and not constantly desire to be living another part of our lives. St. Francis of Assisi challenges us to be generative in our living the seasons of our lives, “the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon all those men and women who have done and preserved in these things and it will make a home and dwelling place in them. And they will be the children of the heavenly Father, whose works they do. And they are spouses, brothers and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (St. Francis of Assisi – “Later Admonition”) This is the work and fruit of vocation, to be a vessel for the Holy Spirit and to embrace our dignified roles as spouses, siblings and parents of Jesus our whole lifelong. For me, this is understanding vocation as being chosen and called, for I am constantly called “to be spouse, to be brother and to be mother” of Jesus in each season of life.
I truly believe as children of God we are all chosen (Romans 8:15-17), and I appreciate that I am being called continually and fulfilling my call in each season of my life, in each time and space in which I live. Kathleen Cahalan, in her book “Calling All Years Good”, speaks of the anxiety and fear that some feel in missing “God’s one call.” This I can understand and have felt this same anxiety at points in my journey. Getting caught in the “what if?” or “how do I know?” or “will I be any good?” moments can indeed be fearful. However through the nourishment of the Eucharist, scripture, the desire to be part of community, good people and life experiences I have learned that discerning is never over and fear has no place in the lifelong journey of discernment (even though it tries to rear its ugly head). Trying to appreciate this and how this allows for my desires and God’s will to continually intertwine is still unfolding in my life. I do see that the divine spark within us is ignited at birth and through baptism, it is enflamed by Christ present in others on the journey, circumstances and life lived. As I transitioned from life as a lay pastoral minister to life as a Franciscan I have been opened up to the reality of discernment and not getting stuck in the “one call only mode.” I have more and more been able to say “thanks be to God” for the journey and the continual discernment that gives flesh to my desires, deepens my spiritual life and my craving to be a vessel for the Triune God. Even in the moments when contemplation, pondering and discernment seem painful and difficult I know that God provides light for the path (John 8:12), wind to fan the flame (John 3:8) and wisdom to leap into my darkness (Wisdom 18:15).
Cahalan’s study stated that “most communities are not places of calling.” This statement saddens me for it means that we are not valuing the relationships of community – of the kingdom – and acknowledging that Christ dwells among us; for he pitched his tent among us (John 1:14). Families and communities are the first place where we hear what it is to be called. Our name is called and cooed by our parents and it is declared in the sacrament of baptism; it is here that we first hear the voice of Jesus declaring us as chosen. For if Christ chose to pitch his tent among us and live among us then indeed we are chosen and this is our vocation story.
Each of us is called to pitch our tents around Christ and encourage others to do the same. I know in my own journey this is true, for in the many communities in which I have lived they have always been places of calling. It was not about my parents saying, “you’ll be a good brother someday!” or neighbours saying, “why don’t you study to be a priest?” or parishioners saying, “what will be next for you?” It was in my parents appreciating my abilities and challenging me to use my skills to serve and build community. It was in neighbours encouraging me in accomplishments and acknowledging that I am a valued member of the community. It was in parishioners working with me to make our parish community a place of welcome. It is now as a Friar, through my vows and my brothers’ help that I see my desires and hopes united with God’s will as I yearn to be guided by the rule of St. Francis. This has been the constant pitching of my tent near Christ and living the gospel. This is living a vocational life for it is in all the seasons of my life that I am called to be a Christ bearer. For in Christ pitching his tent among us it has revealed God’s love and this love has encompassed me. It is though this love in communities as places of calling that I have been able to make ready a place for Christ to pitch his tent again and again. In staying near to Christ I can embrace the changes that come in the seasons of my life and to recognize that he is also here among us now.
Being an open vessel for the Triune God has become a common prayer for me. My mantra or motto has been: “Lord help me to be a living tabernacle and living icon for you.” This is the metanoia of my vocation. I continually allow the Spirit to work through me and open myself up to this movement. This along with listening to my heart (for being a living tabernacle means Christ dwells there) and opening up my imagination (through prayer, music, new experiences, dialogue, listening to other’s stories) allows God to work through me whether in great ways or small ways, general tasks or a specialized field. It is here that I come to see that the Jesus story is not ended for he lives in me and in all God’s children.
Saint Francis once said, “I have done what is mine to do; may Christ teach you what is yours!” What is mine to do is to embrace the lifelong vocation journey that encompasses all the seasons of my life and creates a fullness. What is mine to do is to embrace the dignity which is mine as a child of God because of the love of Christ and his Spirit who enlivens my desires and imagination calls me to the fullness of life, “For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28). What is mine to do may not look the same as yours, or my brothers or even my siblings and my friends but what unites us is that we are all chosen and called. The seasons of my vocational life, if you will, are the newness of spring, the refreshment of summer, the harvesting of autumn and the stillness of winter. What more could I desire for in this chosen and called life of mine?