Today, November 5th, Jesuits in the United States celebrate all the Saints and Blesseds of the Society of Jesus. It is also National Jesuit Vocation Day.
May I begin with a reflection from today's antiphon: "The child to whom you gave birth is the King of heaven and earth for ever." Each of us, as Christians, is called to give birth to Jesus in our lives - to be a Christ-bearer for others.
Some are called to do this as single persons, some as married people, and others as priests or religious. Each year students ask me about my vocation and they have various questions about discerning theirs.
You may have heard of the young boy who told his pastor that he wanted to be a Jesuit when he grew up. "You can only do one of those two," quipped the pastor. We've all heard similar jokes about Jesuits: "A good Jesuit is one who gets up at 5 o'clock - twice a day." or... The "S.J." stands for "soft job".
Well, to get serious, what does it mean to be called? And how did I know that I was called to be a Jesuit? Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God calls a variety of women and men to special roles in salvation history. Often the ones chosen feel unworthy, ill-qualifed, fearful, or unwilling to give up the comfort zone of their lives. I experienced all of the above.
Throughout my young years the thought of becoming a priest would occasionally surface, but I'd quickly acknowledge my deeper attraction. I wanted to be married, have children, and make a lot of money. But soon the "call" would surface again.
This reminds me of the story of a young boy flying his kite in a park. A low flying cloud enveloped his kite. An old man walking by saw the boy holding the string and asked what he was doing. The boy explained but the man asked: "How do you know there's a kite up there?" The boy responded: "Because every so often there's a tug on my string."
Well, God's "tug" kept reoccurring within me and was intensified when one of my teachers said: "I think you'd be a wonderful Jesuit." That both frightened and attracted me. How could I ever measure up to the level of intelligence and holiness I perceived my Jesuit teachers to have? Praying about these questions and talking them over with a Jesuit began to clarify things. He taught me St. Ignatius' rules for the Discernment of Spirits. Simply stated, one lists all the reasons for and against making a choice. As my reasons for becoming a Jesuit were listed, I experienced great peace and joy, the sign from the Holy Spirit of a correct choice.
In choosing to follow Christ in the Society of Jesus, I found all that I ever dreamed of and more. My young mind had focused on all I was giving up. I had no idea of all I was to receive. Poverty has freed me for greater availability to God's people because all of my needs would be taken care of by the Society - for the rest of my life. Chastity has freed me to love like Jesus. And God has blessed me with the love of more people than I ever dreamed possible. Obedience has given me comfort knowing that my talents would be assessed, developed, and then used for the greater honor and glory of God wherever the Society perceived the need was.
To be in companionship with my fellow Jesuits is certainly one of God's greatest gifts. To minister with my brothers in friendship and the love of Jesus is a wonderful life. At the heart of all our ministry is: a) the desire to create conditions for women and men of all ages to believe how loved they are by God; and b) to convince them of how much God needs them to proclaim that love by the ways they reach out to each other every day.
Jesus said that the harvest is great, but the laborers are few;
how true today. If you have felt the 'tug' of Jesus, let me suggest
Above all, as we learn from Scripture, don't be afraid. Jesus gives a call, yet respects your freedom, and will love you forever, whatever your choice. Let us pray for vocations every day. And no matter which way of life we pursue in the Church, may the prayer of each of us be this:
May I live in such a way that those who know me but do not know God will come to know God because they know me.
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