Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Easy Peasy Discernment

I found this article online this afternoon which I think speaks a lot of truth about life, faith and calling. It's true that figuring out your vocation (and then living it out) can be complicated. Here's a secret though: it doesn't have to be!

Almost exactly four years ago I was just starting my seminary journey. On the 9th of January 2010, my mother brought me to the seminary on my "first day of priest-school". Thus began a year of discernment, wrestling with God and myself, separating apart what I had thought was my vocation and what was slowly developing as God's actual call on my life. Discernment got complicated.

With my mum on the first day at Holy Spirit Seminary.
Eventually I made the decision to withdraw from formation. I spent the next few months (and as I look back now, it's really been the last few years) trying to piece together the where, how, why, when and (the big one) what of God's call for my life. There were feelings of unworthiness and confusion: why would I be called to seminary only to discover I'm not meant to be a priest?

That last sentence is pretty revealing of what was going on in me as I discerned: it had become all about me. My prayers, my questioning and my discernment were focused on the "I", on my calling. It's easy to focus the discernment journey on ourselves; at which point we need to make a necessary shift and remind ourselves: it's not my call, it's God's call. Now, given that we have free will and we have to choose that call; what I'm saying is that vocation isn't ever just about you. The vocation question is (or at least should be): how am I called to serve God and the Church?

Taking the focus off yourself removes the influence of feelings, fears, insecurities and expectations. With the focus on God and on the people of God we can find added motivation to make those "big decisions" about our vocation.

In my own life, the decision to serve within the Vocations Centre was a really an easy one to make; because I was able to see how my experiences could serve as gift and inspiration to others seeking their own vocation. It's funny, because I was able to find personal fulfillment not in seeking it for myself, but in seeking to serve God and the Church.

So, my advice? Discerning a vocation is easy IF your discernment is focused on God and the people of God. With God and the Church at the heart of your discernment, all that's left to do is make a decision and pray about it. It sounds simplistic, but that's because it doesn't have to be so complicated. Trust in God, be honest in prayer and be integral in your decisions and you will find your calling.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Think God Thoughts

Thinking. It's an interesting concept. We think all the time. As I write this I'm thinking about thinking. Now you're probably thinking about thinking. 

Jokes aside, today's Gospel reveals to us something mind-blowing about the way we think:
Jesus and his disciples set outfor the villages of Caesarea Philippi.Along the way he asked his disciples,“Who do people say that I am?”They said in reply,“John the Baptist, others Elijah,still others one of the prophets.”And he asked them,“But who do you say that I am?”Peter said to him in reply,“You are the Christ.”Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.He began to teach themthat the Son of Man must suffer greatlyand be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,and be killed, and rise after three days.He spoke this openly.Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples,rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”Mk 8:27-33 

That last line hit me like a frying pan to the face, because the implication is that we can think like GodOK  before you start calling me a heretic and a blasphemer let me make it clear: God is infinitely bigger, greater and God-lier than you or I can ever attempt to be in this life; but we DO believe that we can begin to enter into the mystery of God.

Throughout the history of humanity we have seen many great figures who have thought "God thoughts": Mother Teresa and Blessed Pope John Paul II are two who immediately come to mind. Currently Pope Francis is showing us just how simple it is to be God-like in our world. 

So how do we think "God thoughts"? There's the old cliche' WWJD: What Would Jesus Do? I think there's a better question: how would Jesus think? What we see in the Gospels is that Jesus was constantly on about his Father's business. In every situation he finds himself in, Jesus seeks the Father's will. That's big picture thinking. God has the big picture, so to seek God's will is to seek to see the bigger picture, to look beyond ourselves and the immediate situation.

Big picture thinking needs to be accompanied by big picture ACTIONS. Jesus not only saw the big picture, but acted on it: preaching, teaching, healing and eventually dying for that big picture. We get it easy because most of us won't be physically crucified, but if we look around our world we can see that humble, love-motivated actions are severely lacking.

In today's Gospel reading Jesus is telling Peter (and us reading it today) to think "God thoughts", to see the big picture and to do everything we can to make that picture a reality. That is the foundation of Heaven on earth. That is what vocation is all about: seeing the bigger picture for your life and the world you live in and making that picture a reality. So, get thinking!

Saturday, 8 February 2014

February 14th

The 14th of February is fast approaching, which means our Facebook news feeds are bound to start filling with statuses, blogs and memes from the hopelessly romantic and the frustratingly single.

Next Friday you won't find me celebrating Valentine's Day; partly because I'll be on camp with 90 Year 12 boys from Padua College, partly because it's my Grandmother's birthday, but mostly because in the Catholic calendar of saints it's actually the Memorial of Saints Cyril and Methodius.

The Feast of St Valentine is "a popular devotion, but not a feast universal"

Cyril and Methodius were two brothers from Thessalonica who went on to become the Apostles of the Slavs. Their lives are definitely Google-search-worthy.

Now, I don't point this out to look like some smarty pants or to make some anti-commercialism rant (because it's too flipping obvious that commercialism manipulates every significant celebration in the world). My point is that we can miss the full story. If we get so distracted by the the romance of Valentine's Day, we can miss the story of Cyril and Methodius whose passion for the Gospel can be a great inspiration to us today.

This isn't just about the 14th day of February, this is about every day of our lives. Life carries with it history and background; and if we don't delve into that history or expose ourselves to that background, we can miss the richness that is inherent to the Catholic faith.

At whichever stage of the faith journey we find ourselves in, there's always the opportunity to root our faith even deeper into the 2000 plus years of history that precedes us. That requires a little extra digging to look past the cultural norms.

And "looking past the cultural norms" is probably a good place to circle back to, because that's exactly what Cyril and Methodius did: they looked past what everyone else was doing to proclaim the Gospel with new ardour, new method and new expression (*cough* New Evangelisation *cough*). On the 14th of February (and really, every other day for the rest of our lives) let's allow the Gospel to inspire us in new ways.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

My Call or God's Call

After Christmas, everything in the Church can feel a bit.....well, dull! It's often not that church itself is dull, it's often that the New Year brings with it busy expectations: returning to work, school or uni, implementing resolutions, and even just recovering from the hectic Christmas travels and celebrations.

Certainly this has been the case for me. Yesterday I went to Mass and it felt monotonous and dutiful. Don't get me wrong, I love Mass; I just wasn't really expecting any fireworks. Then, at the start of Mass, the priest explained it was the Feast of the Presentation and I sat up in the pew a little bit and began to focus in.

See, with the Presentation comes a great Gospel reading from Luke (one of my fave's):

When the days were completed for their purificationaccording to the law of Moses,Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalemto present him to the Lord,just as it is written in the law of the Lord,Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,and to offer the sacrifice ofa pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord. 

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.This man was righteous and devout,awaiting the consolation of Israel,and the Holy Spirit was upon him.It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spiritthat he should not see deathbefore he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple;and when the parents brought in the child Jesusto perform the custom of the law in regard to him,he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word,for my eyes have seen your salvation,which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:a light for revelation to the Gentiles,and glory for your people Israel.”
Luke 2: 22-32  

Simeon really impresses me, he's one of my favourite characters in the Gospels. He's told to wait for the Christ in the Temple, so he does. We don't know how long he waited, but you can hear him say: "Now, Master" in an exasperated tone!

What really impresses me about Simeon is that he was a righteous and devout Jew; and as a righteous and devout Jew he was expecting the Messiah to be a great saviour, a military and political leader against the Roman oppressors of the time. Yet Simeon has the discerning eyes to see that this little, humble baby is the Christ. We have much to learn from Simeon!

How many times in our lives do we pursue what we think should happen, rather than being fully open to God's will? We can deceive ourselves by calling it "God's Call", but really its "My Call" built upon our own expectations and fantasies.

Discernment doesn't happen only in your head. It's a movement of a thought or feeling between the head, heart and soul; which is tested against the needs and demands of the community. Simeon models this for us: he put aside his own expectations and was fully open to God.

It's God's call first. My call is to respond to God, however God might lead me. Expectations will get in the way every time, because as this Gospel reminds us: God's call isn't always what we expect.