Written by Kathleen Lundquist
I once had the opportunity to hear a Jesuit priest being interviewed about his sense of ‘calling’ and his view of his vocation. He told a surprising story:
He was nearing the end of his formation, and his ordination date was drawing near. As the day approached, he began to get “cold feet”; he began to doubt himself, wondering whether he’d really been led by the Holy Spirit in responding to God’s call or whether he had just been deluded by a passing fancy. Dread began to pile up in his heart and mind, and he sought out his director, who gently helped him in dealing with his fears and encouraged him to continue on the pathway toward priesthood.
His ordination day arrived, and then passed; however, the nagging feeling that he’d made a huge mistake didn’t go away in the midst of the joy and celebration of the end of the long formation process. Even after years of intense study, examination, spiritual direction, and practicum, deep down he didn’t feel prepared at all for the situations he imagined he might face as a priest. He accepted his first assignment with obedience, but still struggling with his fear.
After a year and a half in his parish in a small Alaskan village, including the stresses and strains of adjustment to the culture and some initial awkwardness in carrying out his duties, he realized one day that he felt better – he felt at home, he felt confident and useful, he no longer felt the sense of dread that had dogged his steps. He considered how this transformation had happened in his heart, and he came up with this answer:
He realized that he had been taught to be a priest by those whom he was called to serve. The people who surrounded him had brought their needs and problems to him, and he had somehow found within himself the resources to help them – and he realized that those resources had been placed in him by virtue of his vocation and his obedience to it. From his parishioners, he learned what was needed, and God seemed to have supplied him as the conduit through which they could receive the grace they sought. From their feedback, he learned how best to provide and care for them.
I think that the experience of this priest applies to each one of us in our vocation as lay Christians, i.e. the priesthood we received by our baptism, which we exercise each day in our roles as parents, teachers, managers, administrators, etc. People come to us to draw out what God has welled up within us – for them. This underlines an important idea that all Called & Gifted seminar participants hear: Your spiritual gifts are not for your own edification; they are for others. As a comfort, recognize this: Other’s spiritual gifts are for you.
Paying attention to our interactions with friends and family is one way that we can get a glimpse of what our specific charisms are. If you wonder what your personal spiritual gifts or vocational direction might be, ask yourself this: What is it about yourself that you find constant joy in giving away to others?