TO FOLLOW OUR CALL

Author: Fr. Michael Byron
October 20, 2019

A good friend of mine from college came to school absolutely convinced that he was called to be a high school math teacher. He majored in math, and in the spring of his senior year he began student teaching in a local Catholic high school. That was 38 years ago, and he’s still at the same school teaching math. I’d call that a very successful discernment of a call.

Another of our classmates majored in accounting and was quickly hired by one of the big national firms when he graduated college. He spent not more than a few years in that job before deciding that it didn’t make him happy. He went back to school to learn how to become a middle school science teacher, which he has now been doing for about 25 years. I would also call that a very successful discernment of a call. I was an economics major in college and began my work life in banking—and now I’m doing this. I would also call that a very successful discernment of a call. So just what exactly is a call, and how does one know if he/she is recognizing it and responding to it well? And why am I asking this now?

 I’m asking it because of the main character in Jesus’ parable today—the story of the “unjust judge.” Think about that: a person whose professional life is devoted to doing a job that he either hates or doesn’t care about. The Sacred Scriptures tell us about his own admission that he “neither fears God nor respects any human being.” Well then what in the world is he doing as a judge.?! A guy who has no regard for justice is sitting in a position of dispensing justice. How could that have happened? He regards doing justice for a widow as a bother, rather than as a privilege and a duty, and he capitulates to this persistent woman only because he is worn out and afraid for his personal safety if he doesn’t do so. I would call that a catastrophic failure in the discernment of a call.

The same question presents itself to all of us who call ourselves Christians. We are all called to something, in virtue of the very fact that we are here. But what? And how can we be sure of what that “what” is? And this isn’t just a question for young people who are starting out on the journey of making adult decisions about careers and family and home and lifestyle. It’s a question that keeps coming back as the circumstances of our lives change—when we are confronted with the end of a job or a marriage or a relationship. A call is something that we carry with us until the day we die—which does not mean that our call is always doing the same thing in practice throughout our lives. For some of us, a call from God doesn’t necessarily mean any kind of specific employment or career at all. It is an open-ness to the moment.

For some, like my friend the math teacher, it does involve persevering at the same task for decades. For others, like my friend the science teacher, it means knowing when it’s time to change course and to follow a new direction. That doesn’t negate the call that has been. And for others, perhaps like spouses and parents and children and friends, it means being wise about how to respond in this particular moment in a relationship, which may or may not be just exactly the same way that we’ve responded up to now.

A true call from God is not necessarily a summons to do exactly the same thing over the course of one’s life—although sometimes it is. A call is an invitation to be present to the moment, with the grace of God.

That is why prayer is such an indispensable part of the Christian life—because what the moment demands of us disciples is ever-shifting, ever-changing. The same call to be followers of Christ may result in very different looking behaviors from day to day, season to season, depending upon what is happening to and around us. Some days our call summons us to be consolers, encouragers, forgivers. And other days the same call may require us to be prophets, criticizers, challengers.

Any true call requires us to be nimble around God’s requests for our service—not locked into any one way of responding to people. Now and forever. But at the very least we can know that any life situation that has us despising the very things that we are supposed to be doing—like the tragedy of the unjust judge in the gospel—is a failure to discern our call, which is in turn a failure to pray. I remember our late Archbishop John Roach saying sarcastically that church ministry would be wonderful if it weren’t for all these people. That’s what I’m talking about.

Embracing one’s true call at any given time does not necessarily mean doing what seems easiest or most pleasant or most immediately rewarding. Very often it is the opposite of that, which is what makes it a call rather than merely a preference. Prayer doesn’t always provide us with what we want, but it does provide us with what we ought. And our call from God is not something that we own, but it is something that we accept and conform ourselves to, and live ourselves in to.

An unjust judge is a nonsensical person. And so is the Christian who resists the call of Christ and his church. We only discover what that is through prayer—incessant prayer, not only in solitude, but especially when we are together here in our Eucharist.
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