By Father Jim Gallagher
Ever since I was a little kid, growing up in a Catholic home and going to Catholic schools, I heard the message that God had a plan for me. We were told that each Christian had a vocation, or a calling from Christ, and that as a part of our discipleship we should follow that call. The problem was that never once did my phone ring with the Lord on the other end explaining the plan for me.
In scripture there are countless examples of God delivering the call. For some it came directly from God out of a burning bush or a vision. For others the message was delivered by an angel. Indeed for some it was Christ himself standing there at the boat saying in person, "Come, follow me."
As for me, no angel came to knock on my door. The phone call never came. Not even an e-mail, text or tweet. Did this then mean that I was not called to anything in particular? Well, no.
Experience has led me to believe that the good Lord does have a particular call, or invitation, into a life and labor that will bring joy and meaning into each of our lives. In my own life, the fact that there was a particular path for me became clear when I stopped ignoring that nagging notion in the back of my head telling me that maybe I had a vocation to the priesthood. I stopped ignoring it and followed where it led only to discover that this is indeed the path that will bring me to joy, meaning and fulfillment. I saw the reality of God's call while I was there at UP a few years back working with students. I could see it in the nursing, teaching, engineering or other students who were getting so excited about the specific material they were covering or the skills they were learning.
They were so fired up about things that I never wanted to know about or have to do myself. It was clear that there was a calling there that they were discovering. I see it now as I work with young men considering whether they may have a calling to the priesthood. They are not talking to me because they see the priesthood as a profession that has great health benefits. They are talking to me because they feel drawn to the ministry and have a sense that it is something they can do and a way that they can make a positive difference in the world.
So experience teaches that there is a particular path drawing us to meaning and purpose, a path that is different for each person, but can we claim that it is a call? What I have come to understand is that God is even more sophisticated than any of us can imagine. Indeed, the call does not come as we communicate, but as God communicates. It comes at the moment of our creation. The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah relates: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you" (Jer 1:5). God was there at our beginning, thus we are known by God through and through. Our strengths and weaknesses, our potential and our needs are all known. From the beginning we are known and from the beginning God's will is planted in our heart. That seed planted in our heart is not just a way for God to make sure that all the necessary jobs are filled, it is a calling given with our good in mind. The Lord knows what will draw us into our deepest potential and joy. It is to that end that the call is delivered.
The process of discovering that call, then, is a process of cleansing our heart so that the will of God may surface. It is a process of testing our strengths and natural affinities to see where they lead us. It is a process of working with those who know us and can help us to come to know what others see in us. The beautiful thing about this call from the Lord is that it is one that rises up from within but then it is confirmed from without by way of the needs of the Church and the world. We then find our way as it will allow us to make a positive difference in the world and be drawn closer to God in the process.
God knows us and loves us so that we may know this and may make it known we are called.
To spend more time with this notion of God's call, come to BC 163 tonight. We will be showing the movie, "The Calling," with conversation to follow.
Fr. Jim Gallagher is the director for the Office of Vocations for the Congregation of Holy Cross.