March 16, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Praying to discern God’s will for us now

John F. Fink(Twenty-first in a series)

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales wrote: “True devotion consists in a constant, resolute, prompt, and active will to do whatever we know is pleasing to God.”

If that is what true devotion consists of, it seems to follow that our constant prayer should be to be able to discern what is pleasing to God.

What is pleasing to God is to do his will—“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God has given each of us a unique job to do, and unique talents with which to do it, and it’s up to us to figure out what that is. It’s our vocation in life.

I think that we all have many vocations—many calls from God. All of us are called, above all, to obey the two great commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. Then God calls us to a particular state in life, whether that be to the priesthood, the religious life, marriage or the single state in the world. Once we make the decision to accept God’s call to that state of life, he calls us to something more specific.

Furthermore, God doesn’t make just one call and leave it at that. He calls us to do different things at different stages of our lives. No matter where we happen to be in our lives, we must keep asking God in our prayers, “What do you want me to do now? What are you calling me to do now?”

Father Henri Nouwen was one of the most popular authors of Catholic spiritual books in modern times. His 37 books, plus a couple published after his death in 1996, dealt with very human subjects: grief, prayer, spiritual living, love. Several of the books were spiritual journals.

Father Nouwen was restless. He constantly wrote in his spiritual journals that he was searching for his vocations (in the plural). He taught theology at Notre Dame, spent time in a Trappist monastery, returned to teaching at Yale, lived among the poor in Guatemala, taught some more at Harvard, and ended up doing pastoral work in an organization in Canada that provides homes for the mentally and physically handicapped. He never did discern just one vocation, but he continued throughout his life to ask what God wanted him to do.

All of us must do that.

I’ve always found St. Paul’s teachings about the Mystical Body consoling. He tells us that we all can’t do the same thing because God has given each of us different gifts.

Mother Teresa made the same point when she told me and some other journalists: “You cannot do what I do, but I cannot do what you do. Each of us has his or her own work to do. The important thing is that we do something beautiful for God.”

It’s through prayer that we can discern God’s will. And once we discern God’s will for us, we must pray for the courage and ability to do it.†

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