Tag Archives: Confession

More on Vocation, Discernment, and “Pastoral Response”

If you are wondering why I’ve been posting so much on vocation, it is because I have been, in the past few weeks, steeped in researching and writing a talk I will be giving at The Northwest Catholic Family Education Conference in less than two weeks.  The topic has, it seems, fostered a LOT of conversation among people.  I wish people would comment on the blog and not just my facebook page as I know the others who read these posts would appreciate their comments, since it creates for interesting discussion.

I want to begin by talking about the concept of pastoral response.  In my last post, I put forward that the concept of praying for vocations to the single life were probably due to the Church’s desire to offer some sort of pastoral comfort for those who have found themselves without a particular vocation.  I bring this up because I want to offer one suggestion of what would create an appropriate pastoral response on the part of the Church.

First off, a pastoral response should always be rooted in good theology, and theology should be based in good practice.  In other words, practice and truth always go hand in hand.  So, the Church’s response must always be rooted in her constant teaching.  I bring this up because I believe the Church has received a gift that is not used often enough: that gift is the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.  I have been reading a few books lately that have all lead me to discovering in a deeper way his concepts of discernment.  What I find so refreshing in his thought is the constant clarity that he offers in the realm of discernment.  So often, when it comes to the spiritual life in general, and in particular discerning a vocation, so many factors get in the way of seeing clearly what it is God has for our life.  Discernment is not meant to be a complicated process.

Yet, we live in a world where complication seems to be the norm of life.  Emotions, circumstances, relations, finances, etc, all get in the way of our seeing clearly what it is God wants for us.  I say all this not as a pre-cursor to elucidating St Ignatius’ method of discernment: I have not read enough on the exercises to adequately comment on them yet.  Rather, what I have discovered in him is clarity, and I think the Church would do well to listen to the gift St Ignatius offers so as to better guide people in the realm of discernment.  I look around and see many people who are confused vocationally: they are legitimately frozen when it comes to making a vocational choice.  Yet the big reason many are “vocationally frozen” is because they have not received adequate education and direction in the realm of discernment.  If only every priest were given adequate training in the exercises, they would be able to help and guide those who come to them in confession and for spiritual guidance.  That is just one point: discernment would be a lot easier if people were given the adequate tools, provided by St Ignatius, to discern things in their lives.

Now, to comments people posted on Facebook.

One person commented asked about the person for whom both religious life and marriage turn out to be a practical impossibility.  This is true, it happens.  There is a difference between one being called either naturally or supernaturally – what we call the objective call because it is outside of the person called – and the ability to respond and discern – the subjective element of the call.  We must admit to the fact that what we live in is a fallen world.  It means that a variety of circumstances arise which are not in our control which thus affect our ability to respond to a call.  Perhaps there is sickness in our life, or perhaps the person we are called to marry doesn’t necessarily present themselves, or perhaps the bishop or religious order we appeal to for entrance into priesthood or religious life is not open to hearing God’s call and affirming it in us.  There are a variety of things which could thus get in the way.  I don’t want to make it seem that people are worse off if they are single and without fulfilling a vocation.  It does indeed happen.  What I am simply trying to say is that objectively, each person has a call to either priesthood/religious life or to marriage.  Subjectively, it may not be possible to sufficiently respond through no fault of the person called.  There are many nuances here that, unfortunately, a blog post can’t cover.

Someone made a comment that some people live as single persons by choice, out of a sense of vocation: teachers, activists, etc.  They went on to say that vowdness seems to imply only being part of a religious order.  I made a minor comment in that post which may have gone unknown to many readers, and that was the concept of the private vow.  Just because someone does not make formal vows does not mean they are not living vows in their lives.  In the end, every Christian is called to the counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Some are called to live it more literally than others.  So many people who, to us, would be singles, would, in a way, be living a religious vocation.  Perhaps they’ve made a vow in their heart to God, through prayer, through a spiritual director.  In some cases, this vowdness may not even manifest itself in an entirely clear way even to them, but it will take form in their lives.

in Christ

-Harrison

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Key Elements of the Spiritual Life

For aid in my meditation, I have, of late, returned to a small book I encountered last summer while I was doing CPE in Toronto. The name of the book is “Time for God” by Jacques Philippe, a priest of the Community of the Beatitudes.

It is a wonderful book and I am happy I am reading it again. In fact, all his books are well worth the read, they are great guides to aiding you in the practice of the spiritual life.

I just read the section on faithfulness in prayer and I found it to be very moving and helpful in my prayer life. He states that if we love someone, then we want to spend time with them regularly. It doesn’t matter how long: the more we grow in love with them, the more we will want to spend time with them. Nor, he says, does quality matter because the important thing is to be with that person and not the eloquence of your words to that person. Being creates communion, words are simply an expression of the inner working of our soul. He states that even if it is time that is poor, distracted, and not producing any sense of accomplishment that this type of prayer is, in fact, more beneficial to our souls than the times when we can wax eloquence in our words or are lifted up into the most sublime feelings and sense of peace. The former is more important than the latter because in the latter, we stay despite the circumstances while in the latter we tend to stay because it feels good.

This has had me pondering further about the nature of prayer because I know that I can be quite weak when it comes to prayer. I am, to an extent, a man of great practicality. I want to know how to do what is necessary, to get the methods down right so as to ensure that the effects of an activity bear fruit for me and others. This is helpful in day to day life to an extent, but I have struggled for such a long time to overcome this tendency with regards to prayer. Why? Because prayer is not our work, but God’s work.

The way to begin the life of prayer is to accept and realize that it is God Who is inviting you into His intimate communion of love.  Until this is realized, no real progress can be made in the spiritual life.  I recall from January, when we had the seminary winter retreat, Bishop Corriveau quoted St Bonaventure’s “Journey of the Mind to God”.  In this, Bonaventure begins with a prologue begging God for aid as he attempts his work.  One of his intentions is that God grant him “grace, not understanding.”  I remember hearing this and being blown over by the power of such words.  Grant me, Lord, grace, not understanding.  I prayed on those five words all weekend long.  What does it mean, why is it that it hit me so very hard?  I then came to realize something: when I have approached the spiritual life, I have approached it as if it were a method, as if it were something I had to do certain things in order to attain certain ends.  When we pray for grace, not understanding, we are praying for God to do the work in us.  When He gives us His grace, it moves us to a response (which, as Augustine would say, is also graced).

This led me to realize that when we pray for grace, we are praying for the guidance necessary in our spiritual life.  God will give us the answers, we simply need to be obedient to them.  I have been growing in the awareness over the past year of the absolute centrality of the concept of obedience.  Obedience means that when God gives us something, we do not question it, we do not enter into discussion, we simply follow.  If God has the best intentions for us, then we can only say “yes” to Him.  We often think that God is not giving us what we need.  I know I have fallen into that trap.  What I have realized over the years is that this is a total lie.  God always gives us what we need, we just choose to ignore it, usually because we enter into conversation with temptation instead of listening to God’s still small voice.  Am I still weak in not being obedient to God?  You betcha!  But I know, thanks be to God, that I am growing, day by day, in the realization that His love is what gives me peace, His presence is what grants me stability, His patience which brings me to freedom.  The key, I am discovering each day, is to seek out His will in things and to simply say “yes”.  It doesn’t need to be complicated, because God is not complicated.  Our sinfulness is what complicates things.

So what does this all mean for us?

I have discovered that there important things that are fundamental to every Christian:

  • Silent Prayer: we live in a noisy world, but Christ went up a mountain or into the desert to pray.  We need not even go to the Church: find a space in your house and put a holy image or icon there.  Give God 10 minutes a day.  It is small, but it is sufficient.  Bring to God your heart for the day.  Sometimes it will seem like nothing happened, but, at the end of the day, you will notice that there is a quiet peace about you.  It is because you  have given God your heart for a small part of the day.  Do this every day, though.  I know that when I haven’t done this for a day, or even a couple days, my life gets out of whack and I go through all sorts of crises.  Root yourself in Christ, He is the rock of your salvation.
  • Mass:  This almost goes without saying.  If you can, try and find a weekday Mass you can go to.  There is too much to say about the Mass, but it is also self-evident, so I will leave it there.
  • The Rosary: I have, myself, had a love-hate relationship with the rosary.  But the more I pray it (and the more reading I do), the more I realize its importance.  The rosary is the school of Mary, the place where we see the mysteries of the life of Christ through her eyes.  In the rosary, we are in communion with Our Lady.  The more you pray it, the more you take on the characteristics of Mary and the more you realize how much you don’t have the faith she had, bringing you to a deeper desire to be formed in the image of her Son.
  • Reconciliation: I am so very convinced that this is the great neglected sacrament!  This sacrament is where Christ enters our being through the Cross and renews us completely and totally.  Bring everything to Him, He will heal you.  It is a great sacrament because it reminds us that we are sinners and are in need of God’s healing love.  I have never understood people’s fear of the sacrament.  It is a sacrament!  It is a place where we encounter the Christ in His very Person!  Ought we not to avail ourselves of this sacrament?  I would recommend it at least once a month.  We all make mistakes, we all fail to live up to the image of Christ.  Let us go to Him to be renewed in His image.

There is much more I could say, but that is enough for today.  I know that when I live out those 4 simple things each day, I am rooted in Christ Who supports me in the day and, day by day, aids me to be a little bit more like Him and a little less like my sinful self.

in the Risen Christ

-Harrison

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