August 24, 2019 – Feast of St. Bartholomew, Apostle
A key part of my job as vocation minister is to accompany men who are wondering whether God is calling them to life as a Marist Brother. More and more, I feel that the most appropriate response is to affirm them that yes, God is calling them… however we cannot determine where that divine invitation is leading until we have had some extended time to walk and pray with each other. After all, God calls each of us to a life of love and integrity, but we must realize that sometimes that call isn’t as clear as we think. Initial enthusiasm can be very different from sustained fulfillment.
Still, it is wonderful to listen to those who hear and are trying to make sense of God’s call. In this moment, they may be at their boldest and most selfless ever as they weigh their willingness to leave behind their previous lives and set off in a distinctly new direction. God is indeed calling each of them and each of us, but not just at this moment. God’s call has been present for the entirety of each of our lives. Different people are invited to different things at different times, but a call is there regardless.
One of the early steps in discerning a major life change is to consider one’s life journey thus far and to look for patterns. At different times in my life I have been pious and sacrilegious, I have healed and harmed, and I have been generous and selfish. I’ve made good choices and bad. Still I cannot help but feel that even the regrettable decisions I’ve made have played a role in preparing me for my life now. My mistakes have not only taught me better decision-making and accountability, but also greater empathy and compassion, both for myself and others. The knowledge that my own hurtful choices resulted more often from confusion than from malice helps me to be humbler and more merciful than I think I otherwise would. I try harder to listen—especially to young people—because I know how complicated my own youth was in some ways, and how difficult it would be for an outsider to comprehend.
God was calling the whole time.
This is not to say that God called me into my errors. I don’t believe in making God an accomplice to any of our crimes. I have failed to heed God’s call through well-meaning ignorance, and I have failed to heed God’s call due to my own anger, sloth, envy, lust, greed, pride, and gluttony. God’s call never ceased though: It just changed in order to hopefully draw the best of me out of my new situation. Sometimes I still fell short, and other times I responded according to God’s grace.
To envision the life journey, I call upon the image of a tree. Looking forward into the future is like tracing the path from the trunk to twig, complete with limbs and branches not taken. Endless possibility. When I look at the past though, I am still in the position of the trunk, but instead I imagine my birth as a twig that lead to a branch and to a limb, until finally bringing me to my present self. All of my past selves fit together, and here I am walking around like a Russian doll, carrying multitudes with me wherever I go. Embracing these multitudes even when I don’t like how they (I) behaved, because if I can’t love myself, how can I truly love anybody else?
Just as all roads supposedly lead to Rome, all choices I ever made, whether good, bad, or indifferent, somehow resulted in me being who I am here and now. And then when I think not only of God’s hand but also the influence of family members, friends, teachers, colleagues, and impersonal contexts, I can take very little credit. I have been very fortunate, and all I can do is say yes.
All you can do is say yes.
The “ear candy” and “brain food” this week both relate to the image of God writing straight with our crooked lines. The lyrics of Masterpiece celebrate God’s ability to use our mistakes as fertile soil for redemption. Tori Kelly is not bragging about herself being great, but rather marveling at God’s ability to redeem even her—I think she wants us to see that in each of our own stories as well. The article by Nicholas Kristof is primarily an informal policy study, but contained within it is the story of Chian Jennings who claims that being caught smoking crack by a police officer may have been the best thing that ever happened to her. Opportunity in crisis indeed.
Ear Candy: “Masterpiece” by Tori Kelly featuring Lecrae
Brain Food: “Seattle Has Figured Out How to Win the War on Drugs” by Nicholas Kristof
Come back next Saturday for a new post!