HOMILY: For what purpose have you come?

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For this purpose

THE BOOK OF JOB presents work as futile and the worker as a pawn, a “slave” consigned to grueling days of hard and meaningless toil and restless nights of troubled sleep.

Saint Paul, on the other hand, presents an enthusiastic vision of work as pouring oneself out for the well-being of others. He views his ministry as a sacred trust. He freely accepts his calling, and thus his work has a noble purpose.

Jesus, too has a purpose. When, after a day of preaching, teaching, and healing, Jesus went off in the early morning to pray, Simon and those who were with him pursued him. They recognized that Jesus had been a big hit. “Everyone is looking for you,” they said. They wanted to go back with Jesus to bask in the glory of his newfound celebrity status.

But Jesus, having communed with the Father in prayer, understood he was called to go forth to all the nearby villages to preach. “For this purpose have I come,” he said. And he “went forth preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.” That day, the disciples learned a lesson about the importance of listening to and following God’s call within.

AS THE CHURCH celebrates World Day for Consecrated Life, it is a day to thank God for calling women and men to vowed life in service to the church and the world. And it is a day to recognize and pray for all those men and women who, like Saint Paul, have listened for and responded to that call with the gift of their lives. 

And I would add that it is also a day for every Catholic to recognize the importance of encouraging others, particularly young people, to consider religious life as a priest, sister, nun, or brother.  Research shows that the top vocation influencers are parents and grandparents. A key factor in those who have entered religious life is having received an invitation to seriously consider a call to religious life from a pastor, mentor, family member, or friend.

And yet too few talk about religious life, let alone encourage young people to consider the option seriously. In fact, many young people who do voice interest in pursuing that life path are met with derisive comments that call into question their character or readiness to face life—when in fact they are conscientiously asking one of the hardest questions anyone can face.

Perhaps the biggest deterrent is that we live in a culture that avoids deep discernment in general. Each of us has a vocation. We are all called to listen deeply within to discover the dream God has for us, the dream God planted in our hearts. 

At the turn of the new millennium in 2000, the North American Bishops called for all believers to help create a “culture of vocation,” which means encouraging widespread practice of listening, imagining, and discerning what God is calling each of us to—today, this year, this lifetime. Here are the five steps they suggested every Catholic can take.

1.     Pray (for your own conversion and to grow in holiness)
2.     Evangelize (share your faith in word and, especially, deed.)
3.     Experience (Invite young people to worship, community, service, and witness)
4.     Mentor (accompany and share wisdom and knowledge with young people in the process of discernment)
5.     Invite (be direct! Say, “Have you ever thought of religious life? From what I see of you, I believe you would
make a fine priest, sister, brother.”)

Ultimately, discovering one’s calling, God’s dream for us, is all about relationships. It requires a close, authentic, and healthy relationship with the Lord, with ourselves, and with others who have chosen the path of religious life. It involves listening to others who take seriously their own discernment process, and serving people in need who will always present to us the face of Christ.

The choice of what we do with the gift of our life is of the utmost importance. Those who embrace this question honestly and freely are far more likely to avoid the plight of Job who experienced life as futile and empty, because they know, deep down, that God has planted within them a calling that is a sacred trust. Like Jesus, our hours and days and years can be guided by knowing “for what purpose I have come.”

By Tom McGrath is a spiritual director, head of product development at Loyola Press, author of Raising Faith-filled Kids, husband, and member of St. Viator Parish in Chicago.




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