Why Wait Forever?
Dealing With Common Objections to Accepting One’s Call
By Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, O.P.
1. “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” (Lk 5:4). Our Lord is asking us to do something. But who alone holds the power to do it or not to do it? You and I do! God can plead throughout our youth and indeed our entire lifetime but only we can answer Him because of an amazing power called “free will” before which even God Himself even bends.
Reasons for Not Answering God’s Call
What are some of the reasons young people begin to hear God calling them to the priesthood or religious life but don’t answer that call? As the vocation directress for our community, I’ve heard more excuses than I can count! Let’s examine a few in light of the Gospel passage (cf. Lk 5: 1-11) the Holy Father is inviting the entire Church to reflect upon as this new millennium dawns, especially those in vocational discernment.
“I’ll follow my vocation—but later. Right now, I’m too young. I need to experience the world first, have some fun, complete my education, get a job, and see what the world has to offer.”
1. You and I hold the power over our own nets—our hearts. A temptation we might all experience at some time is to fill our empty nets with other “riches”: people, social entertainments, money, prestige, and all the false allurements of this world. Then if we succeed thinking have filled our hearts completely, there will be no room left for God.
2. Ecclesiastes teaches us that there is a time for every purpose under Heaven: a time to discern and a time to decide and act. The timing, it seems to me, for an individual to answer his/her vocation is held in God’s hands, but it is important that we do answer Him and not put Him off with vague excuses. If He is inviting you now to leave all things and follow Him, will you R.S.V.P.? Or will you be more like the “rich young man” in Matthew’s Gospel, who went away sad. Is your “net”—your life—half-empty or half-full? Do you have the courage to open it wider so that Christ can transform your life for all eternity?
3. “I can’t do anything about my vocation now because I have too many debts.”
Have you even begun trying to pay them off? Perhaps you should get a job and make the commitment that once they are paid, you will immediately act on your vocation. You might try asking some people or you know to assist you with donations. There are many good people and organizations that are only too happy to assist a person who wishes to enter the seminary or novitiate and is in monetary need. But we first need to do our part and let God do the rest.
1. In all this, trust is the virtue before which all temptations must give way in order to answer a call to a religious consecration. This trust is never disappointed. Didn't’t Mary Magdalene and the other holy women go to anoint the Body of the Lord knowing full well that there was a huge stone blocking the tomb’s entrance? They knew they couldn’t roll it back—so why did they go? They trusted and they beheld the stone rolled away and an angel there to greet them. For their perseverance and love, they were among the first to whom the Resurrected Christ appeared.
2. “I am not worthy. I’m not holy enough.”
3. Read the life of any saint and I guarantee you’ll find a recurring theme: Jesus seems to always ask us to do more than we think we are capable of. No one who has an authentic religious vocation would ever believe him/her self worthy of it. But God chooses to use, in the words of St. Paul, the “weak of the world to shame those who think themselves strong.” In any event, the “worthiness” or “strength” of a religious vocation must be ascribed completely to God Himself and not to the weakened humanity being called. Still, each of us tends to put self in the center of the picture—where instead we should be placing God.
4. Just listen to Peter’s response to Christ: “Master, we have toiled all night and have taken nothing.” Such a pro-active fisherman’s view of things! We toiled . . .. We took nothing. Peter still sees himself as the source of all possible success. He had failed because he caught nothing though no one could fish like he could! It is only by the power of grace working within him, and his openness to grace, that Peter could consent: “But at your word, I will let down my nets.” Peter decided to open himself to Master. He echoes Mary’s fiat of “be it done unto me according to Thy will.” He is learning the contrast between the active life he has led up to this point of his life and the deeper depths of contemplative prayer.
5. Peter is also learning the meaning of the angel’s words to Mary, “With man, it is impossible. With God all things are possible.” In this dramatic scene of the miraculous catch, Peter’s dependency on God is rewarded with a sharing in Divine power—His very life. Thus begins Peter’s inner journey that will culminate in his being the first Supreme Shepherd of the Church and finally, in his martyrdom of love.
“Not yet. I’m still discerning and need more time.”
1. This is perhaps the largest group of young people with whom I communicate: people who do not seem to be able to make a decision. They always think that they need more time. More time for what? Time to decide; time to visit a multiplicity of convents or seminaries; time to get everything in perfect order including family, friends, long-range plans; you name it! I am more and more convinced that we ought to start a support group for those caught in this category—the “Perpetual Discerner Club.”
2. It is not my intent to poke fun at those who discern for a long while. After all, the decision of one’s life-long vocation might be the most difficult decision of all. In truth, if I could, I would certainly try to assist these discerners to make some kind of a decision for I have witnessed the agony they endure. No one would question that a certain amount of prudent and prayerful discernment is necessary—but not a lifetime of it.
Of what might a truthful discernment process consist? I offer the following suggestions. Men should visit seminaries and experience the seminary life close-up to see if it seems to “fit” God’s plan for them. They need to ask good questions of priests, to begin an honest spiritual life that includes a disciplined balance of prayer, frequenting the Sacraments and Holy Mass, spiritual reading and daily examination of conscience. It is an excellent idea to begin regular correspondence with a priest-friend who also may, but need not, be one’s spiritual director.
Women need to visit convents so that they get a better idea of the reality of women’s consecrated life. They should make retreats that lead them into authentic holiness. Like men, they need to balance her life of sacramental and personal prayer life, spiritual reading, and daily examination of conscience and begin a healthy, holy correspondence with a religious sister-friend who may or may not be a member of the community which the woman aspires to enter. Naturally, it would be better if she communicated with a Sister who lives the community life and spirit to which she believes she is being called but I would not consider that a necessity. Any honest vocation director only desires that God’s plan for each young person be found and followed.
What should you do if you recognize yourself in the “perpetual discerners club” and you want out of it? The answer might be simpler than you’d think. If you think you might know God’s will, simply embrace it as best you can. If, however, you honestly don’t know God’s will and you are putting forth the prayer and effort you should to discern, then never give up.
Had Peter given up after his first failed attempt at fishing and not had the courage to go back out and try again; he might not have become the first Pope of the Church. Sometimes it is just when we are about to give up that, in God’s timing, our nets are just about to be miraculously filled—even to the breaking point—the breaking point of our personal joy. God stretches the heart and we grow by just letting God be God!
Letting God Be God
1. To let God be God is to allow Him to make us saints; to allow Him to fill us with that holiness which is the wholeness for which we were created. Joy greets those who aspire to live on the same page as God. Others who do not understand may call them “radicals,” “dreamers,” visionaries” or just “ridiculous.” But imagine for a moment the immense transcendent joy of living the priestly vocation as “another Christ” or the beautiful life of a woman who has been called to be a “Spouse of Christ”! Who among us would ever feel worthy, prepared, ready?
2. We all know the happy ending of this fishing story by which Peter’s life was changed forever. After the obedience in faith, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. Others were asked for help. To rely on God often means that we will awaken to a new vacuum in our lives—a space that can only be filled when others are let into the deepest places of our lives, of our hearts. We learn to trust God and our neighbor simultaneously because both require of us the humility of a “little one” who knows his own neediness and isn’t frightened by it. Recall Peter had to ask for help for amazement at the catch of fish seized him.
3. A quote from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday brings home this comforting thought for those who might be still awaiting the “resurrection” of knowing the specific vocation to which God is inviting you: Rise from the dead for I am the life of the dead. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in Me and I am in you. Together we form only one person and we cannot ever be separated. Be not afraid to cast your net for a catch far beyond all your wildest imaginings! Remember, he who casts, finds!
Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, O.P. is the Vicar General and Vocation Directress of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This article is an adaptation of a talk given at the IRL 2002 National Meeting. For an audiotape of Sister’s complete talk, contact the IRL Office at 847-573-8975 or send $6.00 + $2.00 S&H to: Institute on Religious Life, P.O. Box 410007, Chicago, IL 60041.