Discernment – What Is Your Mission? (Part 4)

“What Is Your Mission?” This question is posed to incoming freshman/women who attend Villanova University and was recently featured in the university publication, Teaching With Augustine: A Vital Conversation. Any discussion about mission involves a conversation about “vocation.” Last week I proposed that there are actually three types of vocation. The first is the most general – the “Universal Call to Holiness.”  This is the call to be the absolute best you can be with the gifts God gave you thus serving God and serving neighbor. The second is somewhat narrower in its scope. This is the typical understanding of vocation as a “station in life” (priest/deacon, sister/nun (There IS a difference by the way), religious/consecrated virgin. These are life pathways by which you actually serve others – spouses, children, community, the poor, children, etc.. This is typically done within the context of, and with the assistance of, others. This can be a spouse/family, religious community, church/parish/service institution. The last type of vocation becomes more specific and deals with just you.


Much of this deals with Pope Francis’ call to ALL of us to be “missionary disciples,” a deeply personal invitation to each one of us from Christ. In his encyclical, “Evangelii Gaudium” (or The Joy of the Gospel) missionary discipleship begins with, and grows in, an “encounter” with the person of Jesus Christ. This encounter can be a retreat, the reception of a sacrament, a traumatic or tremendous personal experience or even something that occurred out of the blue. It can also be a series of events, sometimes over the course of years. Once we have experienced Christ through this almost mystical encounter, things change. We are able to point to “that moment” (or that series of moments) where we tangibly and almost physically felt God’s presence and love and feel a desire to tell about this experience to others. That is the grace that first transforms us into “missionary disciples.”

This year the world commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It’s interesting to note that, according to Luther, “one’s vocation (or “station in life”) becomes an instrument through which God helps us do good.” Among notable Catholic voices of that same time period was Ignatius of Loyola, who taught that every person can come to know God’s particular will for his or her life. Francis de Sales, writing in the 17th century, came closest to affirming the religious significance of ordinary life in his seminal work Introduction to the Devout Life.  But it was not until Vatican II and the promulgation of Lumen Gentium, (The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church) with its “universal call to holiness” that the Catholic Church broadened its own understanding of vocation to include the “ordinary life” of laity:

… [The laity, by their Baptism, are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life.

Or, perhaps better said by E. Hahenberg in Awakening Vocation: A Theology of Christian Call: they live in “the SANCTITY of ordinary, everyday life in the world.” Now, here’s the big question: How does one begin to find his or her own mission? According to Richard Bolles (What Color is Your Parachute?) you do this by “taking one step at a time.”  You might not yet see where each step may lead, but that is what our Catholic “faith” is all about (For some hints, look on my website for 7 Bible verses about God’s direction) In addition, it is important to check in with our feelings, use rational analysis, listen to the advice of others and realize that sometimes, the choice will be clear and that at other times, it will not be clear at all (See my website for How Ignatian Spirituality Gives Us a Way to Discern God’s Will).

Father Mike Schmitz is the chaplain for Newman Catholic Campus Ministries at the University of Minnesota Duluth (also known as).  He also serves as the Director of the Office of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth. He has a rich YouTube ministry at Ascension Presents as well as his video mission with the Newman Center under the title, “BulldogCatholic” Father Mike has an intriguing, and very practical, YouTube video on discernment.    

One of his first points is what discernment really looks like. Fr. Mike says that often people say “I’m discerning” but that often means “Well, I’m thinking about it.” That’s not discernment. True discernment has a number of concrete steps and components. First, you can only discern one vocation at a time. You don’t simultaneously date, “think about” maybe being a priest and then just see what shakes out. Pick a vocation – just one – and then decide to pursue that one with single-mindedness. Same with jobs, collegeselections, etc.. .You can’t discern several things at once. Pick one!  Second, make a decision. Take a step because clarity follows action. When you move – when you take that one step, God will always confirm the next step. For example, at all of our Masses last week we heard seminarian Greg Miller share his vocation story. He was thinking about perhaps going to college to study engineering but felt a call to discern a priestly vocation. That meant filling out and sending in an application (step one) and then, once he was accepted (step two) “getting inside the gates” of St. Charles Seminary, “trying it on” and seeing whether it fits or  not. For Greg Miller, so far, it’s working. The tIMG_0095hird issue why people tend to “think about” discerning instead of concretely and actually doing something about it is that people want to see the result first, before they make the decision. People want certainty. Guess what?  It doesn’t work that way.  Besides his YouTube video on discerning vocations, Fr. Mike has another YouTube video about this entitled, What Does God Want Me to Do? In it Fr. Mike says that you don’t get to see the results first, but God will never ask you to make a decision on what you don’t know. Next, God reveals his will by means of things that you already do know. What does that mean concretely? Start with the Bible first. Open it. Read it. Go on-line and type in “What does the Bible say about ______” and read what it says. After that, Confession. This sacrament “cleans out the spiritual ears” of your soul to ensure that you are clearly hearing the Holy Spirit. Next, go to Mass. Get the wisdom first hand by receiving Jesus in the Eucharist.

Next week, we dive deeper into St. Augustine’s ideas of discernment and how Villanova uses this as a model to help students determine their own “Mission.”


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