Have you ever pondered your place in the world? Asked the question, “What will I be when I grow up?” (Are some of you still asking that one?) Vocation is often a long and crooked road for many of us, especially the devout and sensitive heart seeking above all, God’s will.
“What does God want me to be? What’s His will for me? How do I separate God’s will from my will?” good young people ask in desperation. Often however, a dichotomy in discernment is created here between the divine and the human. It creates a kind of spiritual stalemate that waits for God to make a move. It comes from the mistaken idea that God’s will operates in a clear and utterly distinct manner from what lies within us. One cannot act, apparently, until God’s Will descends, on a clearly legible rectangular piece of parchment, in flowing script, gold-embossed, postmarked “From the Heavenly Realms.” But is this realistic? Is this how God operates with human hearts?
Whenever this polarity appears in our efforts to discern God’s will, we are invited to go, as always, back “to the beginning…” Back to the original harmony in which God composed the world. Back to the Garden where He first entrusted us with the discernment of an incredibly wide array of choices;
“You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil…” (Gen 2:16)
Highlight, “any of the trees of the garden.”
It strikes me that vocation for the Christian is never a completely blind surrender, a kind of self-annihilating submission that happens almost without us having a word in it at all. The truth of vocation is that it’s a dialogue, not a monologue. A dance more than a cold directive. Wasn’t this true in all of the vocations that changed the world? God initiated then waited on the yes of Noah, of Abraham and of Moses. Heaven spoke then waited on the courageous response of a Samuel, then a David, an Isaiah, and a Daniel. Most especially, when a call was given to a little one named Mary, Heaven waited with bated breath on the most fruitful fiat of the now Mother of All the Living?
Without the full picture of our Christian anthropology, this communion of the divine and the human revealed in Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, a whole host of unhealthy interpretations of the life of faith could crop up in our hearts and minds. For example, without the beauty of the spousal analogy, the Church might appear as a mere bureaucracy, rather than the Bride preparing to meet Her Bridegroom. Without a full understanding of the need to integrate eros (passion) with ethos (principles), one might fall into the trap of fearing passion (as it might lead to sin) and striving to live only for principles (which could lead to a cold, disembodied idealism). Finally, apropos of this reflection, without an understanding of the subjective reality of the person and the objective good they might do in society, one might look at vocational discernment as only God’s will, becoming a “top down,” potentially dry but dutiful Christianity. Conversely, if only my choice, vocation might be fueled by a self-determining zeal that may in fact miss the bigger picture of God’s plan for your life.
The Christian anthropology revealed in the Theology of the Body, is about a marriage of all these things – the fusing of wills, the melding of hearts. When it comes to discerning your vocation, your heart, your passion, and your personality matter. Again, vocation isn’t always some divine directive that God has preordained without your input that drops down from the cloud into your lap when you’re good enough or ready enough to receive it. Vocation, your calling, is your gift. It is the personal gift of God to crown your heart, and your response to his gift by your self-donation to the world of what’s in you.
St. John Paul II asked, in his seminal work, Love and Responsibility, “’What is my vocation? This means: in which direction should the development of my personhood proceed in light of what I have in myself, what I can give of myself, what others – people and God – expect from me?’ Noticed the tiered complexity of this call, which begins with ‘my personhood… what I have in myself.’”
The Lord speaks to our unique and unrepeatable hearts, inviting us into this paradigm of the gift, of becoming gift, of receiving ours then gifting it up to Him in freedom and grace. He listens eagerly to our reply. St. John Paul II continues, “To discern the direction of one’s own possibilities of acting, and to make a commitment in accord with this direction is one of the decisive moments in the process of the formation of personhood… above all his interior life.”
So back into the question of “What will I be when I grow up?” comes an adjustment. Maybe the better question to ask is “How will I love in a way that corresponds to my deepest love? What am I passionate about and when I give it to the Lord, where might that passion flow?”
St. John Paul II, our guide in vocational discernment continues, from Love and Responsibility: “Vocation always means some main direction of love in a given person. Where one is called, one must not only love someone, but also give himself out of love… such a gift of self can be most creative for the person: he realizes himself the most precisely by giving himself the most.”
May the Lord of the Harvest assist us in our discernment. May He quiet our hearts that we might see Him shining in and through every vocation. May He reveal to our hearts the wonders and gifts of our own personhood, our passions and personality all purified in His grace and the fire of His love. May His path for our happiness be revealed to us as the very path our hearts have always desired to walk. As the poet Dante wrote, “In His Will, our peace” may we be able to also say “In our peace, His Will.”
Bill Donaghy has spoken internationally on faith and the New Evangelization since 1999. Through his work with the Pontifical Mission Societies, Bill gave hundreds of talks on the spirituality of mission to young people throughout the greater Philadelphia area and beyond, creating a teaching and speaking ministry known as MissionMoment.org. He holds an Associates Degree in Visual Arts, a Bachelors in Philosophy and a Masters in Systematic Theology. In addition to his full-time work for the Theology of the Body Institute, Bill teaches at Immaculata University. He and his wife, Rebecca, live outside of Philadelphia, PA with their three children.