January 9, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Only prayer can help us discover what God wants for us

During National Vocations Awareness Week, it is important to reflect on our responsibility to accept our own role in service to God and the people of God. God has a plan for us.

A friend of mine told me a story about Tim, a high school senior track star. His track and field team was in the state finals.

Tim’s coaches were confident their team could win. They thought Tim might set a new state record in the quarter mile. He had worked hard as an athlete all his years in high school. Lots of fans were at that meet, including my friend.

Tim’s big moment came; the starter’s gun sounded and they were off. Tim tripped over his own feet and fell flat on his face. My friend said the fans gasped and their hearts just sank. This guy had worked for years to win this meet and to set a record. Was it the tragic ending to a dream?

Tim jumped up and took off at top speed. My friend said, “I wish I could tell you that he caught up with the pack of runners, passed them and took first place, but I can’t. I wish I could tell you Tim caught up with the last runner in the pack and passed him. But I can’t. His competitors were too far ahead.”

When the first runner broke the finish line tape, there was cheering and applause by his schoolmates, family and friends. All the runners won the applause as they finished the race. When Tim finished that race dead last, behind the other competitors, the fans gave him a long, standing ovation.

Tim had picked himself up. He finished the race, and he finished in fine form. He was not only a class athlete, he was a class person. He didn’t give up or quit in disgust and discouragement. In fact, taking the long view, this may have been the greatest race of Tim’s life.

Tim’s story is a lesson about character, courage, humility and determination in the face of difficulty—these are the virtues that make a winner. These are virtues required of all of us.

And, taking the long view of life, it is easy to transfer Tim’s story to the challenge of our life in Christian faith.

There is a long view, and we run this race only once. Without the long view, we miss the meaning of life.

We are called to seek the kingdom of God because that’s our goal—our final home, the end of the race. We may stumble or fall—and we do—but with faith we have the courage to start over and reach our goal.

How we run the race is important. At baptism, every one of us was given the fundamental call to follow Christ. To ignore the reality of this call is to short circuit the path to happiness, joy and peace.

Our vocation is not just some generic thing. In God’s plan, each of us is ­specifically gifted to follow Christ in a way that makes a difference.

Most are called to holiness as married folks. Some are called to holiness, to make a difference, as dedicated single people.

Some are called to be consecrated religious women and men or deacons, and some of us are called to make a difference in our world as generous priests.

We are called to run the race according to our own vocation, and the grace God gives us is what we need to do so. Our challenge is to discern what God wants from us. We do that in prayer.

During National Vocations Awareness Week, the Church invites us to pray for a generous response to God’s call to love and to holiness, especially in priesthood and consecrated life.

Recall what St. Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on a merited crown awaits me; on that day, the Lord, just judge that he is, will award it to me—and not only to me but to all who have looked for his appearing with eager longing. But the Lord stood by my side and gave me strength …” (2 Tm 4:6-8, 17).

Our faith is the most precious gift we have.

We all have lots of preoccupations and concerns about the future. We must never forget we have Jesus at our side.

Speaking to young adults in New York, Pope Benedict XVI said: “I urge you to deepen your friendship with Christ. Talk to him heart to heart.”

No one in the world can guarantee you much about your future. But we can be sure of this: If we pray every day, in our own way, everything will be OK. †

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