Baptism is a vocation, a call to be united to the life of the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. Confirmation is a vocation to go out and witness to that life. But there are many ways of living out the vocation of baptism and confirmation. Two of them involve another sacrament. One is marriage, the other is holy orders. Others involve the commitment to vows or promises, such as religious life or consecrated lay life. In our parish, we have examples of all of these: we have a bishop, a priest and a deacon for holy orders; we have the Sisters of Charity, for religious life; we have a community of the Focolare Movement, for consecrated lay life; and we have many of you, for the sacrament of marriage.
So, the Lord calls each one of us according to his will and grace, weaving a pattern of holiness of life among us for his own kind purposes. But for a vocation to be a vocation, a number of things have to be in place.
The first one is faith in Jesus Christ. It is the acceptance of who He is as God and man. It is therefore the acceptance of his claim about himself, that he is the Saviour of the world and that the world finds its meaning and purpose in him. It is also thus the acceptance of his claim over me, over my person, over the meaning and purpose of my life. It is the acceptance that Jesus Christ is alive, is at work in the world, especially in the community of those who belong to Him, the Church. It is the acceptance that he has a plan for me, a plan born at the moment I was conceived in the womb, a plan for which he created me in love, a plan that will prove his love for me and that will make that love overflow through me to others as I live that plan. The claim of Jesus Christ is unique in the history of humanity: I am the Son of God, I am equal to God, I have conquered evil and death, I command my apostles to bring the Good News of my Word and Life to the ends of the earth, I call all men and women to the obedience of faith in me.
If faith in Jesus Christ is true, it accepts all these claims, including and especially his claim over me. Hence the next thing, the natural follow-up, is to seek out his will for me. In my work at the Tribunal I often come across people from broken marriages who say that they got married just because it seemed to be the natural progression from where they were. Others marry mainly because of financial security. Yet others do so to avoid tittle-tattle or to please a parent. I’ve never come across anyone saying that they got married because that is what the Lord wanted of them. Maybe that’s because people who marry after discerning the will of God are less likely to separate. I don’t know.
My point is that it seems odd that I believe in Jesus Christ, but that the relevance of that for even the most significant decisions in my life is zero. What often happens is that a person decides his own future and then brings God on board to bless it, without consulting Him first to see if the decision is in accordance with his will. But, of course, knowing how to consult the Lord, knowing how to discern his will can be the problem. So, how do you go about that in a way that is not pure fantasy or make believe?
The first thing is to get your priorities correct. And the first priority is to do with your life what helps you achieve your final end: to glorify God and save your soul. Anything that helps you on that road is good; anything that hinders it is bad. Secondly, whatever it is you are considering must actually be good or at least indifferent, never bad. You cannot glorify God or save your soul by becoming a professional thief. Once you are sure the thing you are considering choosing is good, then ask the Lord in prayer to help you examine it carefully and clearly with your intelligence. For example, if your choice is to get married, ask the Lord to help you see clearly and with good judgment what marriage actually is, what it involves, the person of your intended, whether you are truly suited, whether you know one another sufficiently, etc.. The Lord sends his Spirit to help us understand things with a deeper wisdom. Once you have done the thinking work with the help of the Spirit, then ask the same Spirit to influence your will in the direction that is most pleasing to God. A good way to do that is symbolically to place all you have thought about into your hands and lift them up silently to God and then wait quietly and lovingly in His presence. He will not be outdone in love, and will be filled with joy that you are taking Him so seriously. It is unlikely that there will be any apparition, but the Lord has ways of making his will known to us if we will have patience and wait on Him. You will probably need to repeat that prayer exercise many times.
When the time then comes to make the decision, after you have thought long and hard and prayed long and hard, take the decision which appears most reasonable, the one which has the weight of argument behind it. You would not take the decision on impulse or motivated by selfishness.
When you are going through the process of deciding what vocation the Lord is calling you to, don’t forget to try and read a little Scripture or a good spiritual book or to consult a priest or someone whose judgment you trust. All of these things, too, are channels through which the Lord is making his will for you known to you.
I am well aware that what I have been describing may seem a bit too much, or maybe even out of touch. But unless we discover again the prayerful discernment of God’s ways and will for us, we can so easily become blinded by self-will. Doing with your life and your time whatever you like has an easy appeal to it. It certainly resonates with the spirit of our times. But we have not been made to do anything we like. We have been made in immense love to work with God in the perfection of his creation and in the reconciliation of humanity itself to his divine heart. Doing your own thing may be pleasing for a time, but since our hearts, minds and very bodies have been made for God, it will be these which will eventually complain that we are abusing them and thwarting their goal. It is the voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd, which alone can call us to the fresh and green pastures where the very roots of our being will rejoice and be glad. Listening to his voice means to discern prayerfully what He wants of us in our lives.
To our young people in particular, let me say this. Many voices you hear will seek to please you. Some will be good, others not so good. But only in the voice of Christ will you recognize the One who knows and loves you best, who holds the secret of your true fulfilment. He wants to give you life in abundance. Some voices out there would want to take your love and life from you. So, be intelligent. Listen to Christ. Be diligent. If you don’t know how to find Christ’s voice, then use your energies and ingenuity to find out. For, once you hear him, once you experience how he draws your heart to himself, you won’t want to stop listening, for you will have found the path to true and everlasting happiness.