I attended Catholics on Call during August of 2012 after urging on the part of my local Young Adult Ministry Leader – let’s call him Deacon Bob – because he thought that it would be a good experience for me to attend this vocational discernment conference. I, of course, rolled my eyes at the words vocation and discernment as any young Catholic man does when he isn’t ready to be shipped off to seminary. However, as I packed my bags to head to Chicago I could not comprehend the eye-opening experience that I would encounter.
Let me first clear something up for all of you reading this, Vocational discernment does not mean thinking about being a priest, sister, or brother. I mean, it can, but it is not limited to just that. Probably most of you know that, and somewhere within me I think I knew that as well, but I had no concept at that time of just how much appreciation the church has for my vocation, whatever it may be.
At Catholics on Call I encountered something I had never experienced before: a young, vibrant, colorful, and diverse Church! I come from Idaho and though I will promise you it is one of the best places in the entire country to live, diverse it is not. My personal vocational journey was enlivened not only by the talks, prayer opportunities, and sacramental experiences, but – in a big way – by the opportunities for sharing stories and engaging in discussion with my Catholic peers from around the country! I’d never had discussions with people my own age that propelled me deeper into my own faith like these. I was challenged, affirmed, and – for the first time in my faith life – I was able to see the real universality of the Universal Church!
I’m currently a youth minister and worship leader at St. John’s Cathedral in Boise, ID. This is my fourth year working with the youth of our church and just about every day is a new lesson learned. Sometimes within the business of ministerial work, it’s easy to forget that we need to be working on ourselves as well; we focus on the business of church business instead of the church. Sometimes it takes a reality-shaking experience to bring us out of that.
Recently, a teen that is close to my heart has been suffering greatly, and was admitted into the hospital. I had the chance to visit him and as I left the hospital and walked toward my car, my heart feeling as though it had sunk into my stomach, I felt called to head to the Adoration chapel at my church. In the chapel, feeling a whole swarm of emotions coming up, I flipped open a Bible that was sitting next to me and opened to Jonah.
The Lord asked Jonah to go to the city Nineveh where the people had turned away from God, but Jonah was afraid. So, rather than going to Nineveh, Jonah ran in the opposite direction as fast as he could. I understand that urge completely! Every difficult thing I’ve ever been called to do has had a moment where I wanted to run away rather than face it. It could be before talking with a teen that’s been a victim of abuse, while talking with a teen that feels unloved by their parents, or this most recent time before heading into that hospital room; I’ve had a moment before each where I wished I could run away and not look back. Running away from God’s call however, as Jonah comes to realize, leads further away from the good in our lives. In the midst of the storm and tumult, Jonah decides to follow the call the Lord has given him and prays,
“Out of my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me…you heard my voice.
You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea,
and the flood enveloped me…
But you brought my life up from the pit,
O LORD, my God.
When I became faint,
I remembered the LORD…
(Jonah 2:1-2, 7-8).
I realized that even in the moments when I feel weak, or helpless, God will strengthen me when I cry out to Him. I don’t always like going where I’m called, but God will give me what I need to make it through. When Jonah arrives in Nineveh and proclaims that Nineveh will be overthrown in forty days, the people repent and turn to the Lord. God called Jonah to do something difficult, but Jonah found that with the Lord on his side, his call became much easier.
It can be easy in the business of my life to forget to put God at the center. An experience like this most recent one, however, leads me back to God and His plan for my life. When I finally called out, “God, help me,” He came to my aid. God calls us, and God provides for us along the journey. In that chapel, in the middle of the night, I could feel God strengthen me through my prayer.
At the beginning of this article I asked, what does it mean to be called, and what does it mean to live out that call. My experience at Catholics on Call helped to teach me that God is not calling me to commit myself to one particular thing for the rest of my life, but that God is calling me to particular moments, and that each moment leads to another. To be called by God is a life-long mission to serve. Sometimes the call is a difficult one, but God strengthens in our moments of weakness. As Paul says, “I have the strength for everything through (Christ) who empowers me…” (Philippians 4:13).
So, I definitely have to thank Deacon Bob again the next time I see him, and I’m no longer afraid of the words vocational discernment. My experience at Catholics on Call gave me so much; great friendships (including one particular priest, Fr. Vince, who is annoyingly good at Words with Friends), an appreciation for the diversity of the Church, a passion for working with youth, and the clarity to always listen to where God is calling me. With that clarity I intend to continue working with the youth of my parish and region, so that, possibly, I can help them hear their own call and discern what God is asking them to do.