Thursday, 24 April 2014

Scraping the Surface

You know you work in a Catholic workplace when you casually bump into a Bishop in the elevator. That's exactly what happened to me the other day when I was heading out for lunch. I hopped into the lift to head down when it stopped at the next floor and in walked one of Brisbane's bishops, as well as another gentleman. They were engaged in a conversation, which finished abruptly as they stepped through the elevator doors.

"We just scraped the surface in that meeting, didn't we? But, that's all we can do in any situation in life really: scrape the surface," Bishop said, eyes gleaming.

Scraping the surface - sometimes it feels like that's all we accomplish when we begin to ask questions about faith, life and calling. Maybe, like me, you're only too familiar with the feeling of having questions answered with more questions!

I feel like in my life I'm just scraping the surface. Later this year I turn twenty-four, which to me is the age when ages don't sound so young anymore! I'm approaching my mid-twenties, yet I haven't finished my degree, I'm not married, I drive a Granny car...All the things that (in my mind) came with this age, I haven't yet accomplished. I guess you could say I'm having a "mid-twenties crisis"!

The question I ask when I visit schools is "where are you going?" The irony is I don't know where I'm going. I have this job with the Vocations team at the moment, but after that I have no idea. I feel like with all I'm doing now, I'm just scraping the surface of what God is calling me to do with my life.

That's not to say that goal setting is unimportant or unnecessary; but what I've come to learn through my "scraping" is that things don't always go according to my plans. But my scraping and questioning and seeking has led to all sorts of wild opportunities I would have never expected. I'm creeping up to my mid-twenties having not met any of my expectations, but sometimes in our scraping we are called to let go of pre-conceived expectations, our perfectionism, and our check-lists.

I believe that when we scrape towards the depths of faith, life and calling; we realise that God's call is bigger, grander and far more awesome than any list of accomplishments we might have for our life. It might not make sense now, but we just got to keep scraping away. After all, that's all we can do in life really, isn't it?

Sunday, 20 April 2014

One year later

About twelve months ago I moved out of Canali House. Canali House is a house set up in the Archdiocese of Brisbane for men to discern priesthood. The best way I can explain it is by saying it provides men with the time and space to look further into priesthood while still continuing their work or study.

I lived in the house for three months, two years after leaving the seminary. Discernment wasn't new to me. I had many motivations for moving in, but the main motivation was, after having left the seminary, am I meant to go back or do I shut the door on priesthood?

It was my full intention to live in the house for a year, but after three months I discerned it was time to move on. I was prompted by a strong gut feeling, which developed into reasonings which prompted me to have some challenging conversations with my mentors and trusted friends. All this lead to the realisation in myself that God had a different pathway for me.

Despite leaving the house, I continued in my role with Vocations Brisbane. I moved into a share house with good friends and I embarked upon a new chapter of my life.

Discerning God's call in our lives doesn't always lead to a "yes". Sometimes discernment proves to us we're not called to particular state of life or ministry; and it takes great humility to accept that. But discernment always starts with a "yes".

I think sometimes we complicate the discernment process. We can make it all about "me" or we can make it all about God, thus rendering ourselves as too poor and lowly to ever serve God. Discernment is about saying "yes". God says "yes" first: yes I love you and I call you to serve me and the church. We respond with our "yes": yes I believe in you and I'll seek your calling on my life.

I know from experience how easy it can be to feel ashamed, guilty or unworthy. That happens when we lose sight of what discernment is about. That happens when we get locked into our own plans. That happens when we stop saying "yes".

Twelve months later I look back on my "yes" to join Canali House. Even though it lead to a "no" to priesthood, it has freed me up to embrace my calling to work in vocations ministry. It equipped me with experience and skills to do the work I do. It also deepened my relationship with God and strengthened my hope in that relationship.

Vocation is about being generous in our service of God, the church and the world. Discerning that vocation isn't always easy. As I write this it's Easter Sunday, a day in which we celebrate joyfully the Resurrection. But you don't get to the Resurrection without first experiencing the Cross or the Tomb. When we say "yes" we might have to face "crucifixions" and ""tombs", but God resurrects.

We are an "Easter people". That means we have hope: hope in God's "yes" to us; and hope that our "yes" will transform our own lives and the world we live in.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

How have you BEAN discerning?

Do you know the process that goes into producing coffee? I mean, not just add hot water and put it in a cup; but the process that goes into producing the beans that you use? I don't. I just know I enjoy the coffee.

Right now as I write this, I have a coffee connoisseur in my ear explaining how coffee differs depending on where the beans are grown, how they're grown, sunlight conditions, and when they're harvested. He's now telling me about how they're processed, the way that grinding the beans actually happens, and when beans from several regions are blended together it tastes completely different to beans that are single origin. What about how you take it: espresso, latte, cappuccino, macchiato, long black, perhaps with soy or full cream?

I love coffee, but I don't ever stop to think about the process which produces the caffeinated goodness I enjoy so much.

What I'm getting at is that life is like coffee: there's a whole process that goes into it. As an impatient young person seeking my vocation it can get very frustrating waiting and waiting and waiting to arrive at my vocation. I get sick of discerning - I want my future NOW!

Have you ever had a bad coffee before? When the process is rushed it shows in the results. The same can be said of discernment: when you rush the process, or don't make an authentic effort; it will have an effect on your life and on your vocation. 

Discernment isn't about going through the motions or ticking all the boxes to find the quickest possible route to ordination, consecration or marriage. Discernment is about being brutally honest with yourself and with God about the direction of your life. Discernment will lead to an answer or result, but it should also bring more questions. Ordination, consecration or marriage isn't the end game: the state of life which we're called to opens doors to even more directions to serve God and God's people.

My advice to other young people frustrated with discernment is to remember what the process is about. If you're frustrated about not knowing which state of life God is calling you to, then pause and see where God has placed you NOW. If you're stuck and not sure which direction to go then take a (prayerful) risk and choose a pathway.

Instant vocations are like instant coffee - the quicker the process, the poorer the results. Yes, a proper coffee takes a bit more time and effort; but the more emphasis we place on the process, the more quality the end result will be. The way in which we live and engage our vocation, our church and the world wholly depends on the way in which we engage the discernment process. If you're frustrated, impatient or sick of discerning, it means you're probably doing something right.

Thursday, 3 April 2014


Tonight is the Archbishop's Annual Vocation Dinner. It's a dinner for young men who are interested in looking closer at priesthood. As the men file into the Archbishop's residence, the scene is marked with an air of uncertainty: some of the men are uncertain as to why they're there (some are there because someone else has dobbed them in), some are uncertain about priesthood; and even some are uncertain about the direction of their life.

Uncertainty is a feeling most of us are familiar with. It's also a feeling most of us are uncomfortable with. In a world where a Google search is just a few keyboard strokes away, we don't cope so well when we don't have answers readily available to us.

I think answers are overrated. Or at least we've overestimated the value we've placed on answers. As I often say to young people: it's not about knowing the answer, it's about knowing to ask the question.

One of my favourite movies is I Robot. In a futuristic world where robots play a major role in society, Will Smith portrays Homicide Detective Spooner, who is investigating the suspicious "suicide" of Dr Alfred Lanning. Lanning leaves an interactive holographic message for Spooner. The hologram has clues about the case, but Spooner must ask "the right question".

Whether or not you've seen the movie, there's a lesson we can draw from it. The answers we receive are a reflection of the questions we ask. Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer! Uncertainty isn't a bad long as we're asking the right questions. While it's important to question what job or career path lies ahead of us, it's much more important to ask (regardless of which path we follow) "what sort of person am I called to be?"

The challenge for us is to not let our discomfort with uncertainty prevent us from asking the BIG questions. When we're real and honest with ourselves and with God, the answers will come. And when we arrive at those answers, we want to be ready for them. That readiness is dependent on embracing the questions, the uncertainty and the discomfort.

At the end of the day, what our world and our church needs is people who have embraced their call. We can only fully embrace our call if we've fully embraced the questions. Hopefully, tonight a group of young men will confront that uncertainty and embrace their call.