Yesterday I had the joy of meeting at Saint Joseph Seminary with fourteen gentlemen gathered there for our “Come and See” weekend. These days are set aside for men seeking help to know if the Lord may be calling them to serve the Church and world as a priest. They came from across Western Canada for this event.
The readings at Mass highlighted some important principles of discernment. They are pertinent not only to those pondering a religious vocation but to all summoned by the Lord to a life of holiness and discipleship.
To Jeremiah the Lord said: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you….”In the light of faith we recognize that these same words are also directed to each of us. Known and set apart by God even before we are conceived! It is difficult for the mind to grasp this astounding truth, and perhaps hard for the heart to accept it. Yet, it is the case that each of us is known, loved and called by God. How do we discern what this summons is?
The people gathered in the synagogue at Nazareth to listen to Jesus point the way. The passage from Luke tells us: “The eyes of all were fixed on him.” By keeping our attention riveted to Jesus Christ we come to know his will for us. We “keep our eyes fixed” by means of daily prayer and meditative reading of the Scriptures, frequent celebration of the sacraments, especially Eucharist and Penance, and consultation with an experience and trusted spiritual guide. In this way his will for us gradually becomes manifest.
Necessary, too, are a spirit of trust and an attitude of humility. When the hometown crowd at Nazareth heard Jesus, they all at first spoke well of him. Yet, they could not see him as anyone other than just one of their own, so they eventually took offense at him as he challenged their assumptions and prejudices. Faith does not take offence at Jesus. Rather, it recognizes the truth that he is both human and divine, the very Son of God incarnate! From this acknowledgement arises the decision to trust not in ourselves but in his Word and plan.
Responding in faith to Christ also demands an honest awareness that the hardness of heart on full display among the crowd at Nazareth can also be present within ourselves. The same dynamic operative in the crowd’s response to the teaching of Jesus repeats itself in us. At first we marvel at the love of Jesus manifest in the sacred words of Scripture. Yet a continuous pondering of his Word will lead inevitably to a challenging of our own prejudices, thought and behaviour patterns, and assumptions as they are brought to light. The appropriate response at such moments is not the rebellion of the crowd but the repentance of a contrite heart.
Yes, we are, indeed, loved and summoned. May the Lord bless us with the necessary focus, faith and humility to discern his call.