TO FOLLOW HIM OR NOT …
Fr. Charbel gives us an insight on how to be guided by God without giving up the responsibility he gives us to take choices for our lives.
How to listen to his voice?
As a priest, I have heard many times from young men and women something on the lines of ‘Father, I wonder if God calls me to consecrate my life to him…’ Usually, this kind of questioning lasts for a few months and then gradually fades away. It is like in the parable of the sower, ‘the seed fell in the midst of thorn bushes’ and then, it cannot grow as it is choked by ‘the cares of the world and the seductions of riches’. Many Catholics whom God is actually calling to consecrated life, pressurized as they are by the race to social success (to get into the best school, the best college, the best career, the wealthiest kind of life) do not even have the necessary ‘space’ for listening to God, for hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd.
‘Vocation’ is the Latin word for ‘calling’; if Jesus is calling, he needs to be listened to. So the first challenge of ‘vocation discernment’ is to give space to God in my life: by giving time daily for personal prayer (especially silent prayer) and by reading the Holy Scripture (especially the gospel), by observing maybe one day of recollection every month, getting ready to take up a few months of mission experience at the end of one’s studies before entering into professional life etc. So many ways are there, the purpose being always the same: ‘to give space to God in my life.’ The Good Shepherd speaks to us in the gospel; he speaks to us through the people whom we meet, in the events of our life, in our hearts by the action of his Spirit. But are we listening?
Let us be careful here! To say, that does not answer the question of how to discern; it only shows our need for discernment. I’ve heard so many times this kind of statement ‘I do not know what the plan of God for me is, so I let myself be guided by him;’ which is often followed after a few years by ‘this or that happened in my life. It was God’s plan.’ Very often, the first of these two statements could be translated in plain English as ‘I do not know what God wants. It seems to me unclear and risky; I am scared and too lazy to take any decision for myself, so I let the outward circumstances of my life direct me and I avoid asking too many questions.’ The challenge here is to enter into a real attitude of surrender into the hands of God and not into a kind of spiritual sloth. To baptize all that happens in my life as ‘God’s plan’ can lead to a very dangerous illusion. There is a dangerous presumption in claiming to know what God’s plan is. ‘As high is the heaven above the earth so high are his ways from our ways.’