Dear Fr. Joe: How do you really know what your vocation is – is it just a feeling you have?
Wow – what a great question! Thank you for sending this in; I pray this answer helps guide you.
I can’t believe I’m about to type this, but I’ve been a priest 15 years. Time and space constraints prevent me from going into too much detail, but I want to tell you something important: I’m a happy priest. I love serving God and his people this way and can’t imagine what my life would be like had I not accepted God’s unbelievably generous and merciful invitation to be a priest. The funny thing is, I was so scared when I first sensed this call. There were many obstacles and situations that God had to overcome in and about me to get me here, but he sure did it.
What I’m going to offer you now is a small roadmap – a walk through what I discovered was important in hearing God’s call and living it in love. This walk brought me to the priesthood but, obviously, it won’t take everyone there. This may take you to married life, consecrated virginity, the religious life, missions – who knows?
I think the first thing I can offer you is a comfort. Your very question hints at the possibility that you want to know and obey God’s will for your life. If that is the case, then I tell you be at peace. You can be sure that, if you want God’s will done in your life, it will be. It is a great gift from God to know that if we give him permission, he will guide us along the right path. However, we must give him permission.
God is all-powerful, God is all-knowing. He conquered sin and death for all time: dying for our sins and rising from the dead. Yet, even with that, he waits for our permission before he acts in our lives. Because of how free will works, any pursuit of your vocation must begin with your surrender to God. The first step to surrendering to God is doing it through prayer. For me, the prayer was simple: “Lord, I give you permission to take control of my life. Show me what you want me to do and help me to do it.” I prayed that prayer each day in college and through some of high school.
Once you give God your daily surrender, you can be confident that you will find and live your vocation in loving and joyful obedience to God. This leads us into the next step: Relax! I know it sounds crazy to type that, but to me, it’s so important. When we speak our daily (and sometimes hourly) surrender to God, we can know with confidence that we are not powerful enough to confound or confuse God. Make no mistake; your sin can slow the plan down, but when you take your daily surrender and repentance and offer them to God’s love and power, you can be at peace knowing God’s will has won.
So, you’ve surrendered to God and placed your trust in his guidance. How do you continue? Through daily personal prayer and an active sacramental life.
We simply must spend time each day sitting with the Lord, reading and reflecting on his word and looking for ways to live those words in our daily lives. Make sure you talk to a person you look up to spiritually and find the way to pray that resonates with you. With that, be sure and immerse yourself in the life of your church. Find out who to talk to in order to get involved with the Mass in the way that matches your skills: reader, Mass set-up and/or serving, anything like that. Get close to the liturgy through your prayerful and active participation. Read about the Mass in your spare time and learn the rhythm and heart of our sacred celebration.
To me, reconciliation wasn’t a big part of the path until seminary and that is one significant gap I noticed in retrospect: a gap that caused a lot of problems. Because of that, I urge you to make sure that the sacrament of reconciliation is a staple of your spiritual life. Be sure and go to this sacrament at least once a month. Learning to be alert to sin and the damage it does to us bears incredible fruit, as it teaches us about the wonder of God’s unending mercy and love.
Beyond this, make sure that you are talking to people about their vocations. Ask that happy and holy married couple how they met. Talk to priests who love what they do and ask them how they got there. Find people who clearly are doing what God made them to do. Listen and ask questions.
Finally, be attentive to the gifts and talents God has given you. Look at what people compliment you on or about and see where that fits into the world around you. Whatever life God is calling you to, he has given you all you need to be faithful in it. The hints of that life can be found in your personality and life skills.
I want to end this with a great prayer for discerning God’s will for your life that I got from the USCCB website.
Lord, my God and my loving Father, you have made me to know you, to love you, to serve you, and thereby to find and to fulfill my deepest longings. I know that you are in all things, and that every path can lead me to you.
But of them all, there is one especially by which you want me to come to you. Since I will do what you want of me, I pray you, send your Holy Spirit to me: into my mind, to show me what you want of me; into my heart, to give me the determination to do it, and to do it with all my love, with all my mind, and with all of my strength right to the end. Jesus, I trust in you. Amen
I pray that God continues to bless and guide you all the days of your life!
Enjoy another day in God’s presence…
If you’d like to submit a question for Father Joe to consider in a future column, please send it to: email@example.com. Father Joe is unable to personally answer questions.