Thought I'd share my reflections on this weekend's readings. I'm at Stanford University, where the Dominicans are chaplains, for a Called & Gifted workshop and a couple of days of interviews.
Two days ago I read “Pieces of Someday,” a memoir by Jan Vallone, a woman I met at our Dominican parish in Seattle, WA.
Like St. Luke, she “decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence.”
In it I learned that as a college student she dropped her Literature major, which her attorney father thought was worthless, to graduate summa cum laude in biology.
She lasted 8 weeks in Medical school, found she couldn’t dissect the pickled corpse of a woman that undoubtedly was filled with stories.
She married a law student, became a lawyer herself for about 20 years. Hated it.
There’s something compelling about her memoirs; probably because they bring back memories of my own college career.
While in a PhD program in geophysics here, I remember listening to colleagues at Tresidder talking about the magnetic properties of some archaean rocks from South Africa.
It was a late Friday afternoon, and I was done thinking about geophysics, but clearly they weren’t.
With utter clarity - and some shock - came the realization, “I don’t belong here.”
That led to the question, “Why was I here?”
What maze of decisions that had led me to this trim, tidy maze of buildings called, “The Farm”?
More importantly, what were the motives that led me here?
Certainly making my parents proud was a part of it.
In preparing this homily, I realized that in my 50 years of life, mom and dad have only put one bumper sticker on their cars (why decrease the resale value unnecessarily?)
Apparently a sticker with simply the name, “Stanford” was value-added.
But a more basic – and base – motive that led me to a sub-basement lab in Mitchell was being able to use the words, “geophysics”, the abbreviation, “Ph.D.”, and the name, “Stanford” all in a sentence to describe myself.
All of us, whether we’re students in college, or attorneys in the midst of lucrative careers, need to ask if we’re doing what we were created to do – which is to ask whether we’re fully alive.
In that dusty synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus stood before his fellow villagers to declare that, after having worked as a carpenter all his life, he had discovered his true vocation.
This was made possible because his humanity had received an outpouring of the Spirit at his recent baptism by John followed by a 40 day retreat in the desert.
It was in his humanity, through the Spirit, that he would bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives? and recovery of sight to the blind, ?let the oppressed go free, proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord - and be crucified for his trouble.
And all the things that Jesus will do in the rest of the Gospel: his healings, exorcisms, teaching, encouraging of others, and even raising folks from the dead - he will do through his humanity, empowered by the Spirit.
The prophet Joel foresaw a time when that same Spirit of God would be poured out upon all people.
That promise was fulfilled at Pentecost, and renewed at your baptism, when you received that Spirit.
That Spirit is manifested, among other ways, in spiritual gifts - “charisms” in St. Paul’s Greek.
These gifts are different ways in which each one of us is empowered by the Spirit to participate in the ongoing redemption of the world, and are clues to our true calling.
St. Paul mentions some charisms in our excerpt from I Cor12 – healing, helps, administration, and tongues – but it’s not an exhaustive list.
The early Church identified over two dozen gifts, all of which are given so that people in every age might experience, through individual Christians, the same love, power, provision and healing that Jesus offered in his own life.
Jesus foretold this in John 14:12 when he told his disciples, “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”
You have different spiritual gifts, and thus a different call, from the people sitting around you.
Why try to be a hand, when you’re an elbow?
These gifts are given to you for the sake and benefit of others.
God has invested these in you so that the world will be changed for the better by Him with your assent and cooperation.
What a shame to make decisions about majors or careers based on ego, or the ego of your parents or the lure of wealth, prestige, or power.
Charisms whither in a selfish environment.
Why try to be a geophysicist when your gifts, personality and deepest interests point you in a very different direction?
Why pursue a career in law when your heart’s desire – and your gifts – point in the direction of awakening young minds through the beauty and power of literature?
There are characteristics that all charisms have in common.
First of all, because God’s involved, the results you’ll see are supernatural.
That doesn’t necessarily mean miraculous, like passing an organic chem. exam you didn’t study for – but results that seem beyond the effort you invested.
Secondly, people will give you feedback – often positive beyond what you might expect.
Best of all, we’re energized when the charisms we have are being called forth from us by people who need them.
People have for years, even before I was a Dominican, talked to me about deeply personal issues in their life, and I desired to help them see their own potential for dealing with them.
Hours helping people learn skills or information aren’t long at all for me.
I am juiced working behind the scenes with people who have a vision, just to help them succeed.
We have received the same Spirit as Jesus did in his humanity, but we each have our own call – and your call, as lay people, is in the world.
You’re given charisms to help change the structures and institutions of the world from the inside, and to do it in different, unique ways: as lawyers, physicians, PTA members, writers, musicians, artists, engineers, business people, mothers, fathers, husbands and wives.
But there’s a catch.
Charisms show up under two conditions:
1) when the person, group or situation for which you were gifted intersects with your life;
2) when your faith becomes personal – meaning, when you realize that faith is not about keeping rules, being nice, or simply showing up to Mass when it’s not too inconvenient, but a personal adherence to God, particularly as revealed in Jesus.
Becoming a disciple of Jesus is to accept an Anti-Faustian bargain; rather than “selling your soul” to the pursuit of wealth, prestige, self-importance, God has sold himself for you.
You were purchased, and at a price.
The cross is the cost Jesus paid because he “only did what His father commanded” – he served, loved, forgave, healed and thus unsettled the powers of the world.
Jesus invited the fisherman, Simon, “Come follow me, and I will make you a fisher of people.”
Jesus saw a potential in Simon that Simon couldn’t imagine in his wildest dreams.
Jesus invites you to “Come, follow me” - to lose your idea of what your life should be, in order to find the life for which God has made you!
He knows a potential in you beyond your imagining.
Only by first being a disciple can any of us possibly become who we were meant to be.
Your personal vocation may be the same as your career, like Art Nutter, an engineer with a charism of wisdom, which helps him find practical solutions to problems.
He started Taeus, Int’l. (i.e., “Tear Apart Everything Under the Sun”) – and that’s what he and about 30 other engineers do in a high-tech version of the lab on CSI.
Nutter and his crew wreck PCs, burrow through software code and tear layers off microchips, rooting through the rubble for evidence of stolen designs that might strengthen a plaintiff's case or help a defendant force an acquittal in a patent infringement lawsuit.
Your vocation might be a part of your career, like John – a physical therapist using a charism of teaching to improve the healing skills of other therapists.
Your vocation might have nothing to do with your career, like Jan, the lawyer, who, in looking through the pieces of her life, discovered “someday” showed up when she walked into a classroom to teach.
You’ve got your own pieces of someday in your hands right now, if you’ve decided to follow Jesus.
What energizes you, where are you fruitful without undue struggle, what do you to help others that elicits surprisingly good feedback?
Those are all signs that maybe the Holy Spirit is involved, working through you, with you, in you.
Your call unfolds over time – all God asks of you is to take the next obvious step.
Jan twice decided to leave her law career, and twice got cold feet.
The charmed third time she listened to her heart and exchanged cherrywood conference rooms for a dumpy English classroom at an orthodox Jewish high school.
That led to the next step, a long-postponed MFA, and that led to her memoirs.
Who but God knows where that will lead?
But if she continues to follow Jesus, she can trust it will be good.
This is an article of our faith, a consequence of the fact that God loves each one of us.
John Henry Cardinal Newman put it this way, “God has determined that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, he calls me by my name, he knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it to me.”
I’d say that calls for a celebration – like Nehemiah said in the first reading, “rich foods and sweet drinks”…and much rejoicing in the Lord.