Approaching the thirtieth anniversary of my ordination, I find it to be an appropriate moment in time to reflect, confess, and recommit: reflect on God’s call, confess my response—and sometimes lack thereof, and recommit to what I’m doing.
“Vocation” comes from the Latin “vocare” meaning to call. In religious vernacular, it means a way of life that God wants for us in order to enhance the common good. Of course, God calls every person. The Hebrew prophet, Jeremiah, suggests that we are even called from the womb. It’s beyond mysterious to think that God would call us from our earliest formation and development—yet everything about our existence is somewhat mysterious as He enfolds us in His intimate nature. On a religious level, it seems to make sense. As we introduce the classical model of educating children at Saint Charles, I am impressed how it differentiates, from other models, the notion of vocation. Most modern schools of thought ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But the classical model asks other questions: “What does the world most need from you…What does God most desire for you…What are the gifts that God has entrusted for you to use…How might you best respond to God’s hopes for you in this world?”
I felt God’s call as a child, i.e., I sensed His closeness and invitation to walk alongside Him. I credit that to my mother and a parish priest who taught me to be open to His loving outreach and not be afraid to reach back. That sense of communion with the Lord remained in me, though mostly hidden until after college when I worked as an admissions counselor for my alma mater and drove long distances alone on recruiting trips, spending many quiet hours seeking divine direction. All these years later, I am not the same guy who contacted a vocation director in the early 1980s; I have changed, the world has changed, the priesthood and the church have changed, too. What I was trained to do in the seminary is not what I do in the parish; what I learned then has little relevance for how I spend my time now—but each pastoral assignment has taught me something valuable. Like most priests, I have to keep responding to the call, for it takes on different meanings in different times and places.
And along with the church, I must confess who I am, warts and all. When Saint Augustine wrote his Confessions it was not so much about confessing his faults and sinfulness as it was confessing God—his faith and trust in The Lord. It’s a little different from professing our faith, as we do every Sunday when we recite The Creed; to profess means to elucidate a viewpoint while confess means to admit to something. Augustine admitted to his total reliance on God for that which was life-giving to him. Though my goal is to offer total surrender to God, I end up confessing other things. I confess that sometimes I disagree with the institutional church and the priorities of some of the guys running it. I confess that I am disgusted by religious extremists and rigid-minded Catholics who put canonical or liturgical laws above Christ’s law to love people. I confess that I don’t have a lot in common with many priests (except the obvious response to the call). I confess that I have liked some assignments more than others and wasn’t at all excited about coming to my current one—even a bit embarrassed to admit that it took me ten months to adapt and make it “home.”
That’s where it comes to recommitment, I suppose. Getting assigned to a dying community that many Catholics abandoned, that had lost its spirit and even its hope in a future, was initially, for me, like getting exiled. Either God or the PTB wanted me to gain a moribund experience: keeping vigil over the death process much as a nurse might administer palliative care to a dying hospice patient or seeking a miracle much as an EMT worker might address the scene of an accident or a prayer warrior respond to a lost cause. There’s still enough fight in me to opt for the latter. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, far greater people than I, from Pope Francis to great saints, have been exiled and discovered something valuable, even salvific, in it—and truth be told, I’m not willing to give up on my vocation or this parish just yet. I sense incredible potential here and, like the disciples on Pentecost, I’m swept up by a spirit that seems holy and has purpose.
Unlike months earlier, I am feeling pretty good about the recommitment part of my annual review. Blessed with amazing friends and spiritual companions who give me encouragement and example, I once again am able to recommit to God and the priesthood. The Lord has been very good to me. I hope I can pass His treasures along to others.