For those of us who are parents, providing for our children’s needs is our absolute highest priority in this life. What could be more important than ensuring that your two-year-old has enough food to eat, clothing to keep warm, shelter from the elements, and is kept safe from harm or violence? And how would you feel as a father or mother if you could not provide these things for your children? What would you do to make sure your sick nine-year-old son gets to a doctor or your 13-year-old daughter does not end up a prostitute or being trafficked for sex? Would you do whatever it took, including crossing a line drawn on a map by politicians long ago? Would you emigrate to look for work to support your family, even if it meant breaking the law?
Does every person seeking to come to the US face such dire circumstances? No, but many of the people who make the drastic decision to leave their native land and go to another country with a different language and customs do so with a compelling reason. According to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), many of those reasons include, “poverty, armed conflict, social strife, political turmoil, environmental degradation, and a lack of development in their home country.” Read more
As you may know, Pope Benedict XVI has called for a “Year of Faith” which began on Oct. 11, 2012, and will conclude on Nov. 24, 2013. Quite intentionally, the first day of the Year of Faith is also the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
During the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict asked Catholics to study and reflect on the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism so that they may deepen their knowledge of the faith. In response to the pope’s call, I have set up a discussion board at http://www.thills.org/C5/YOF/ and I plan on using this space to reflect on the Council’s teaching as it relates to personal vocation, starting with the most common vocation–marriage.
“The biblical Word of God several times urges the betrothed and the married to nourish and develop their wedlock by pure conjugal love and undivided affection. Many men of our own age also highly regard true love between husband and wife as it manifests itself in a variety of ways depending on the worthy customs of various peoples and times.” (“Gaudium et Spes” [“The Church in the Modern World”], par. 49). Read more
This is the 11th “Art of Vocation” column and it marks a shift in focus. Before explaining that change, a review of the past 10 articles may be useful.
In the first article, I stated that I was writing for the “maladjusted” (those who may be out of step with the call of the world because they are following the call of God), and that it was my hope to “offer reflections on living one’s entire life in cooperation with God. In the second column, I focused on the universal nature of “personal vocation,” explaining that, “vocation,” as Catholics understand it, refers to the call of Christ to all humans to follow him. All who say “yes” to that call are “disciples.”
The next five columns addressed how we come to know God’s will. The most recent three columns discussed the relationship of living our personal vocation in this life to what we can expect in the next life.
As the above summary makes clear, the previous 10 articles primarily concerned themselves with the “science” of personal vocation rather than the lived “art.” For the sake of truth in labeling, we either need to retitle this column, “Speculative Philosophical and Theological Reflections on the Concept of ‘Personal Vocation’ in the Post-Conciliar Era,” (catchy, no?) or move on to highlighting some of the “artists”—persons living and doing the Art of Vocation.
David: A true artist
I recently interviewed a very prominent attorney in Chicago (let’s call him David), someone internationally-recognized as a expert, but also someone very intentional about discerning God’s will in his life.
I asked David for examples of how he has practiced the “art” of vocation as a Catholic husband, father, and attorney. In particular, I was interested in any episodes where he needed to resolve a conflict between doing his job and following his conscience. He noted two situations.
At one point a managing partner assigned him to work on the account of an international, Internet-based, pornography production company. David told the partner that he didn’t want to work on the account, but was somewhat nervous as to how the partner would react. As it turns out, the partner was totally fine with his stance and said, “no worries.” The issue was never raised again.
A second example David shared was in regard to an international professional association, of which he is a member. Articles supporting a legal right to abortion had began to be printed with some regularity. He contacted them, argued that abortion was a highly-controversial issue that was not related to the focus of the association and, as a result, the organization dropped all advocacy on the issue. With one phone call he managed to change the nature of the organization’s newsletter.
What I found most interesting is that David did not think either of these episodes were very important from the perspective of his personal vocation; they were merely events that came and went. Rather, he emphasized the whole of his work life as a consistent witness. As he explained, many of his colleagues simply did not know any practicing Catholics and what they did know they saw on television.
“When you let people know that you’re a Catholic-Christian you start two steps back in professional credibility and respect,” David said. “Some people will not take you seriously and others may not be inclined to socialize with you.” However, “Christians in the secular world can reflect the light of Christ into places where it otherwise might not fall. Just by being competent, and taking a personal interest in the needs of those around you, can break down negative assumptions.”
For instance, David worked closely and effectively, with a colleague who was homosexual. Once, at the end of a long day, his coworker said, “I enjoy working with you, but I know that you must hate me because I am gay and you are Catholic.” This gave David the opportunity to explain, to witness, that he harbored no hatred toward his co-worker. Just this small step, this small conversation, was a moment of healing for this person who experienced rejection in the past. David was sufficiently proficient in the “art of vocation” to know that this was not the time for a full explanation of Catholic teaching on sexuality; but rather a chance to simply clarify that being Catholic did not require hating others. As elemental as that may sound, that may well be the first, and most important, step in evangelizing.
Lund-Molfese serves the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau as Director of Social Ministry, Evangelization, and Formation, as well as the director at Trinity Hills.
Life, Hell, Heaven, and the Kingdom of God (Part III)
Continuing where we left off in “Part II” in this series, we recall that the Kingdom of God is present, here and now, in a partially-hidden way on earth. As the Second Vatican Council taught, “Christ inaugurated the kingdom of heaven on earth and revealed to us the mystery of that kingdom. By his obedience, he brought about redemption. The Church, or, in other words, the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery, grows visibly through the power of God in the world” (“Lumen Gentium” [“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church”], 3).
Christians are citizens of the kingdom of God, and the power of God is at work in us. We cannot establish the kingdom of God in this world (to attempt to do is the folly of fanatics). But by cooperating with God, we do build material on earth that will be part of God’s kingdom. His kingdom includes all that is good, including every aspect of human flourishing, not as ideals, but as concrete instances. It is not the ideas of love or truth or compassion that constitutes the kingdom but concrete incarnations of these goods brought about by the power of God acting within us.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church cautions that, “Christians have to distinguish between the growth of the reign of God and the progress of the culture and society in which they are involved. This distinction is not a separation. Man’s vocation to eternal life does not suppress, but actually reinforces, his duty to put into action in this world the energies and means received from the Creator to serve justice and peace” (CCC, 2820). Each person is called by God to cooperate with Him, in a unique path of life, to bring about irreplaceable materials for the kingdom.
As Pope Paul VI explained, Jesus gave us a universal outline of this path when he “taught us the way of the beatitudes of the Gospel: poverty in spirit, meekness, suffering borne with patience, thirst after justice, mercy, purity of heart, will for peace, persecution suffered for justice sake” (“Credo of the People of God,” 12). The beatitudes “express the vocation of the faithful” and “shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life. The beatitudes are the paradoxical promises that sustain hope in the midst of tribulations; they proclaim the blessings and rewards already secured, however dimly, for Christ’s disciples” (CCC, 1717).
What the “way of the beatitudes” concretely consists of is unique for every person, and they constitute a kind of cobblestone path for a Christian’s personal vocation. We can look to the example of the saints to better comprehend life lived according to the beatitudes. In particular, Pope John Paul II called Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, “a man of the eight beatitudes,” and described him as “a young person with infectious joy, the joy that overcame many difficulties in his life.” Pope John Paul II declared Frassati a patron of World Youth Days.
Frassati was committed to works of social action, charity, prayer, and community. He gave his train fare, and even the clothes off his back, to the poor, even if this meant being cold or walking home himself. Although actively involved in many charitable works, he is quoted by numerous contemporaries as saying, “Charity is not enough; we need social reform.” Frassati promoted the social teachings of Pope Leo XIII’s foundational social encyclical, “Rerum Novarum” (“On Capital and Labor”), by founding a newspaper called Momento.
A political activist and strongly anti-fascist, Frassati, while participating in a Church-organized demonstration in Rome, “stood up to police violence and rallied the other young people by grabbing the banner. … He held it even higher while using the pole to fend off their blows.” One night a group of fascists broke into his family’s home to attack him and his father.
“At first I thought it was thieves,” Frassati would say, “but on reaching the hall and seeing one of them about to cut the telephone wires, I immediately realized that they were the Fascists. My blood let in my veins. I threw myself at them shouting: ‘Blackguards, cowards, assassins!’ and I went for the guy at the telephone with my fists.”
Pier Giorgio Frassati was no cardboard-cutout kind of saint!
He was a flesh-and-blood young man whose heart was full of compassion toward the weak, but was not afraid to work for justice even at some personal risk (he died at 24). Although obviously very intense, he was best known to his friends for his love of mountain climbing and practical jokes.
Pope John Paul II, after visiting his tomb in Pollone in 1989, said: “I wanted to pay homage to a young man who was able to witness to Christ with singular effectiveness in this century of ours. In my youth, I also felt the beneficial influence of his example, and as a student I was impressed by the force of his Christian testimony”.
Life, Hell, Heaven, and the Kingdom of God (Part II)
In “Part I” in this series on heaven and hell, I considered the questions: “What we can expect after we die?” and “How do our actions and choices in this life relate to our existence after death?” I suggested that in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council we find a richer and more attractive understanding of heaven as intimately connected to the Kingdom of God and our personal vocation. Personal vocation answers the question, “What is my ultimate purpose in life?” partnering with the mandate “One’s purpose, one’s goal in life, is to build the Kingdom of God for the Glory of God.”
This is a very different approach than seeing one’s purpose of life as that of simply avoiding hell. It also is a much more demanding one.
Avoiding serious sin is the minimum requirement of the Christian life, although not its highest goal. It is like a man who is married and who sees the purpose of his being a husband as only avoiding adultery and not committing acts of domestic violence. Yes, these are essential aspects of being a good and faithful husband, but the obligations and the opportunities of the vocation of marriage provide for much more. Being a husband requires loving one’s wife with the love of Christ. Likewise, the Christian vocation requires much more than avoiding sin (although it does absolutely require that); it demands that we love Christ and neighbor in the context of our personal vocation, and by doing so we build material for the Kingdom of God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of Heaven and the Kingdom of God as follows: “This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity … with the Virgin Mary, the angels, and all the blessed—is called “heaven” (CCC 1024). The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will (CCC 1026). In the glory of heaven the blessed continue joyfully to fulfill God’s will in relation to other men and to all creation. Already they reign with Christ; with him “they shall reign for ever and ever” (CCC 1029).
The blessed or the elect, “reign” in the Kingdom of God, which is the ultimate end of human existence. As the Catechism explains, “At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign forever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed (CCC 1042). Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, “new heavens and a new earth.” It will be the definitive realization of God’s plan to bring under a single head “all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth (CCC 1043). The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, “so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just,” sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ” (CCC 1047).
Regarding our responsibility to build material for the Kingdom of God, the Second Vatican Council taught:
As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away; but we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide … the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age. … For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father: “a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.” On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower. (“Gaudium et Spes” [“Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World], 39).
Germain Grisze explained the relationship of this teaching to each person’s vocation in his 2005 Aquinas Lecture:
Vatican II thus teaches that every human good is an essential constituent of the kingdom, our true ultimate end. Strictly speaking, … the ultimate end toward which we should direct our lives … is God’s kingdom, which will be a wonderful communion of divine persons, human persons, and other created persons. Every member of the kingdom will be richly fulfilled in respect to all human goods, including friendship with God. … The heavenly wedding feast will never end but will forever become still better and still more joyful.
That ultimate end is the same for every Christian, yet each can attain it only by participating in it in his or her own unique way. The good fruits that each of the blessed will find again in the kingdom will include those realized in his or her unique self, and those blessed selves will forever live diverse lives within the one communion among created and divine persons. So, the ultimate common end for all created persons is the kingdom as a whole, and the ultimate proper end for each individual is his or her unique participation in the kingdom.
God calls each of us personally, by name, to work with him in a distinctive way to build unique material for the kingdom. Our entire path of life, “indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise,” cleansed of any defect, will exist forever as an identifiable part of the Kingdom. What will a given action, done for the sake of peace or justice or human dignity, look like in the Kingdom? We don’t know. What we do know is that God has chosen to cooperate with us in creating material for the Kingdom. Our task is to discern exactly how God wishes to work with us and then carry it out in our life.
Lund-Molfese serves the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau as Director of Social Ministry, Evangelization, and Formation, as well as the director at Trinity Hills.
This article will complete my discussion and commentary of Fr. Peter Ryan’s article, “How to Discern the Elements of Your Personal Vocation.” (The full article can be found at: http://www.arlingtondiocese.org/vocations/documents/vocationdiscernment_frryan.pdf). Future articles will address the discernment of particular issues, address questions submitted by readers, and highlight real-life examples of Christians in our midst who are heroically living the apostolate of the laity.
The vocation of every baptized Christian is to cooperate with Jesus in doing the work of the Father and to build up material for the Kingdom of God. What that looks like for each individual is as diverse, literally, as the number of human persons ever created by God. No two lives are the same and thus, no two personal vocations are identical. As Pope Benedict XVI said to one parish council:
Every person carries within himself a project of God, a personal vocation, a personal idea of God on what he or she is required to do in history to build his Church, a living Temple of his presence. And the priest’s role is above all to reawaken this awareness, to help the individual discover his or her personal vocation, God’s task for each one of us. I see that many here have discovered the project that concerns them, both with regard to professional life in the formation of today’s society—where the presence of Christian conscience is fundamental—and also with regard to the call to contribute to the Church’s growth and life. Both these things are equally important (Pastoral visit to the parish of St. Felicity and her children, martyrs, Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 25, 2007).
Christianity is not a moral theory or a philosophy, but rather a relationship with a person, Jesus. Working with Jesus fulfills us as human persons and as individuals. By fulfillment, I mean that we develop ourselves and become more what God created us to be. Human beings are creatures who are “on the way,” that is, in development: always growing and changing. In the beginning, this growth is directed by nature and is more physical in nature, but after we achieve the use of reason we begin to discern and direct our own moral and intellectual development. In time, a great deal of responsibility for who we are, what we are intellectually and morally, depends on the choices we make.
We are not just what we eat, but also what we choose. Our personal vocation is not only what we will live, but more importantly it is the discovering of who God created us to be. Blessed Pope John Paul II once wrote, ‘What is my vocation’ means ‘in what direction should my personality develop, considering what I have in me, what I have to offer, and what others—other people and God—expect of me?’ (Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, 257.)
On the other hand, we are more than our past choices: We are God’s act of creation, and his individual plan for us should remain our primary focus. God loved us first, but our response of loving God and his son Jesus includes wanting to live our entire life in cooperation with that love and no part of life outside of it. Cooperating with Jesus requires that we choose, even among good options, in accord with his will. Hopefully, since our baptism, our friendship with Jesus has continued to grow and deepen.
Five brief points on discernment
1. God, our Father, does not impose his will on us, or even the knowledge of his will on us. God invites us to freely come to know and accept his will in knowing and accepting his Son, Jesus. It is in the context of being a disciple of Jesus that discernment takes place. Discerning—which simply means a process of coming to know—God’s will is ongoing and not a once-and-for-all event. Through reason and God’s grace, we have access to knowledge sufficient to live God’s will for us in the present, but not a vision of the future that will come to be.
2. The first step in discernment is to eliminate immoral choices. This is actually prior to discernment, properly speaking, since discernment is among good choices. Once we discern and make a commitment to a certain way of life, be that marriage, religious life, priesthood, apostolic celibacy, etc., additional discernment is not just narrowed but is also deeper: there is a greater appreciation of the goods that can be achieved in the context of the commitment we made. We do not discern choices which would conflict with these commitments. So all choices a married person makes should be coordinated with their marital commitment and this principle will eliminate various options, but it also opens up a depth of possibilities within the context of marriage.
3. Since all we have is a gift from God for service to others, in discernment we take stock of our talents and abilities. What am I particularly good at? In what context am I particularly suited to find fulfillment? We also “look around” and ask what are the needs of those around me? Particularly, what are the needs of the poor? Finally, how do my talents match the needs of the world? Within my prayer life with Jesus, to what needs is he calling my attention and what talents of mine is he encouraging me to develop and use?
4. Discerning among good choices is difficult, but not arbitrary. When we are equally drawn toward two courses of action, equally suited to them, and the need in each area is also equivalent, then what? We don’t need to flip a coin, but instead let feelings play their appropriate role by listening, closely, to the voice of God speaking to us in our heart. As St. Ignatius of Loyola advised in his seventh rule for discernment of spirits:
In those who go on from good to better, the good Angel touches such soul sweetly, lightly, and gently, like a drop of water which enters into a sponge; and the evil touches it sharply and with noise and disquiet, as when the drop of water falls on the stone. And the above-said spirits touch in a contrary way those who go on from bad to worse. The reason of this is that the disposition of the soul is contrary or like to the said Angels. Because, when it is contrary, they enter perceptibly with clatter and noise; and when it is like, they enter with silence as into their own home, through the open door.
5. It seems appropriate to close this series of articles by quoting the closing of Fr. Ryan’s essay, where he summarizes a final point regarding discernment:
Of course, none of us is completely converted. We all have some desires that are not fully integrated into our converted selves. We must distinguish those desires from the deepest desires of our converted hearts, and be swayed only by the latter. If we have eliminated the morally-illegitimate options and sincerely strive to do God’s will, we can be confident that he will speak to us through the desires of our hearts. After some time of pondering the different options, one eventually will emerge as the more appealing, and we will be at peace with embracing it. When that happens, our discernment is over. Then we must accept the discernment by beginning to live it out.
Are you trying to discern God’s will for your life? Are you praying over questions like, “Should my husband and I attempt to have another child?”; “Should I take a better paying job even if it means spending less time with my family?”; “How do I balance my obligations toward the poor with the needs of my family?”; “Should I run for public office?”
If so, write to Nick at email@example.com and your question (anonymously, if you wish) may be featured in a future column.
Lund-Molfese serves the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau as Director of Social Ministry, Evangelization, and Formation, and Director at Trinity Hills.