Last week I introduced a publication from the Villanova University Institute for Teaching and Learning entitled Teaching With Augustine: A Vital Conversation. Much of what I’ll be writing about comes from that Fall of 2016 issue. The booklet started with the question What Is Your Mission? To help answer that, during Orientation, Villanova students are asked, “Why are you here?” The students, spend the following four-or-so years trying to answer those fundamental questions.
However, “what” and “why” don’t quite add up to finding or having a mission. According to Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute? .. a mission is a religious concept that cannot be separated from God. Therefore, a “mission is the continuing task or responsibility for which one is fitted or destined to do or is specially called to undertake.” It is not simply an intellectual task, but a spiritual one as well. It cannot be found in days or weeks and it involves a learning process with stages and steps.”
So, where do you start? First, a person must reject the notion that one’s mission on earth involves doing something. Instead, we must look to being someone. Next, we need to realize that some parts of a mission must be shared with and accomplished through others. We also have to be willing to move away from DOING, GETTING and HAVING to the deeper understanding that “we are sent here for BRINGING more gratitude, more kindness, more forgiveness and more love.
In his podcast, “The Complexity of Purpose, Part 2,” Andy Stanley confirms this by saying that asking “What is my purpose?” … is the wrong question and a false start. It’s not about you! It’s about someTHING and someONE outside of yourself. Meaning is about you agreeing to be a “means” and an “end” to something other than yourself. It’s not, “What is my purpose.” Rather, the question is “For whom is my purpose?” It is “for what is my purpose?” Those who devote themselves to themselves will have nothing but themselves to show for themselves.
Is there a way of discerning our mission concretely? Mission discernment starts by asking a number of things from us:
- Prayer and Silence. We must be willing to stand hour by hour in the conscious presence of God, the one from whom our missions are derived. For some this seems daunting however. Ok, start with 15 minutes, but you have to do it every day. Read the Bible. Say a rosary or any devotional prayer. Read a spiritual book – any spiritual book (It doesn’t have to be Catholic). Sit in silence. Talk to God. Do something but just start. Two things will happen. First, the Holy Spirit will lead you to what to do and what to do next. Second, distractions will occur – which means it’s working. If you decide to take your spiritual life and relationship with Christ seriously, you will quickly find that “the flesh is weak.” Also, realize that this is spiritual warfare – and you’re the prize. Do you really think that Satan is going to leave you alone?
- Ask the Holy Spirit this question, “What am I good at? What do I enjoy doing? What is it that – when I do it – other people say, “You know, you REALLY do that well!” Other items to consider are to think about activities, in which you find enjoyment and that seem easy for you, although others might find it bewildering how easy it is for you and not for them. These could be signs of a “charism.” Charisms are “special abilities given to all Christians by the Holy Spirit to give them power both to represent Christ and to be a channel of God’s goodness for people. Sherry Widdel, co-founder and President of Catherine of Siena Institute says that, “Fruitfulness is when our greatest charisms are matched with God’s greatest needs.”
- Ask the Holy Spirit, “What do I do?” During your “prayer and silence” time, ask the Holy Spirit these follow-up questions: “How can I exercise this “stuff that I’m good at” (your possible “charisms”) in an appealing place to which God is pointing me?” “Is this the purpose to which God is calling me at this time?” “Where is there an issue, a problem, a need in the world that needs to be addressed that is custom tailored to my gifts, talents and desires?” Realize that it doesn’t have to be someplace far away. It doesn’t have to be something big. This could be missionary “spring training” so God might need you to start small.
- Ask someone else. How do we know we’re on the right path? Talk to someone. Do NOT ignore this step. Even God is a community (…you know, that Trinitarian, 3-in-one God thing). So discernment is always done within the context of a community. Pick someone – a friend, BFF, spouse, family member, counselor/ therapist, priest / deacon / religious / shaman. After you have listened to the Holy Spirit in silence, and having been willing to actually follow the guidance of God’s spirit with some kind of concrete action, the Lord wants to lead you concretely to make this world a better place and bring about the “Kingdom of God” here and now. He does this through other voices – certainly through the Bible, the writings of the saints and the sacraments. But Jesus Christ took on human nature and “grace builds upon (this human) nature.” The Holy Spirit always speaks through the human voices of others. By the way, whomever you consult, make sure THEY are praying, THEY go to Confession on a regular basis and that THEY regularly consult with some type of spiritual guide as well.
Ok, that was a lot to digest. Next week we will take these ideas and look at them from both an Augustinian – as well as an archdiocesan – perspective.