Saturday, February 04, 2017

How do we discern God's calling in our daily lives? Q & A

It is perhaps a challenge for human beings to distinguish from our own awareness, thoughts, feelings, and intuitions within ourselves the real and distinct presence, action, and voice of God. Can we distinguish our regular lives from life becoming special by God's action and power?

All life is "regular" until, precisely, one opens up to God, in whatever way one can. From that moment on a person's life becomes more explicitly spiritual and enters into the supernatural realm, that is, open to God's presence and influence. All life is special because it is particularly wanted and loved by God. When it is truly God's grace at work one of the signs of authenticity is that the person is aware of being blessed, has a sense of unworthiness, but is predominantly grateful and eager to do the will of God, to please Him. A person blessed and led by God doesn't want to shine in the limelight but on the contrary prefers to remain in the background and let God get all the glory.

In the oldest Christian traditions - Roman Catholic and Orthodox - Holy Mary, the Mother of Jesus Son of God, for example, was totally surprised by the annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel and that God would choose her. She had no thoughts at all about her own importance and was on the contrary quite humbled by the message and by God's choice of her. She remained humble her whole life, content to be in the background; yet at the same time doing her part to support her Son and later the Apostles and disciples, and especially through pondering the things of the Lord and praying alone and with others.

Excessive preoccupation with wanting to be special or to shine indicates preoccupation with one's own self rather than openness and awareness of God or a desire to know and to do his will. On the other hand, it may happen that in advance of giving a special grace and calling, God may spark within a soul a desire for more, which may appear at first as dissatisfaction with the way things are. Over time, the intensification of the desire takes up more room and pushes out sentiments and attitudes of selfishness and sin, purifying and making more room for what it is that God wants to give. God's timing is always perfect and He knows best what we need in order to embrace his will.

At times, in the accomplishment of his holy will and plan for the common good of humanity and the particular good of each person God assigns to a person a particular role for others, or for the Church, or for humanity, or simply for their family or Parish community or neighborhood or place of work or school or.... How God works is often simply to infuse a little of his own wisdom into a person's normal human thoughts, feelings, and intuitions or insights.

What is primary is the glory of God, that is, that it be universally known that God is real, that He always acts for our best interests and for the common good, and the what is best is that this truth and good news about God we widely spread, understood, and embraced. The more human beings embrace and act for the glory of God the more rapidly his goodness and offer of abundant life can touch and bless the lives of human beings.

From the beginning as recorded in the Book of Genesis God our Creator has intended that human beings live our life on Earth in a true partnership and friendship with God. The original sin was to turn our back on God to prefer a stranger's novel ideas and our own preference or will in opposition to the will God has made known to us for our own welfare and the common good and the glory of God.

Whether it is a person's first and fundamental life vocation - such as marriage and family, or priesthood, or religious life, or consecrated virginity for the sake of the Kingdom, or simple celibacy in the world - or a calling constituting a profession or work or activity - such as medicine, social work, teaching, business in accord with moral and divine principles, arts or communication, and so on - in either case, the first or fundamental calling is about dedicating one's life to a particular cause and in a particular life style. God grants the grace for us to remain faithful to this calling, no matter what may change or arise.

Sometimes there can come from God a "call within a call" such as what happened to Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was happy and faithful and very dedicated as a Sister of Loretto teaching girls that for the most part came from privileged families in India. God disturbed her with awareness of how much the poor were suffering which provoked in her a desire to do something to alleviate their suffering.

One thing led to another and she in time received permission to test out her desire by going out among the poor for a probationary period. Then as it went well her probation was extended from one year to three years. During that time her second calling became confirmed in the fruitfulness of her efforts and intensification of her desire and God gave her the intuition to seek to be released from the Loretto Sisters to found a new congregation and the Vatican approved. When there is external confirmation by the Church then a person can finally know for sure that it is God's will. Until the approval, Sister Teresa only had her personal conviction but she could not be sure that she was doing God's will and was not being deceived or misled by her own ego or worse. With the formation of the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity Sister Teresa became Mother Teresa.

What does it mean when some impossible prayers are answered?     This is the simplest way to know that God is at work. We can do the possible, while God alone does the impossible. However the Lord did warn in the Book of Revelation that the evil one would work wonders to deceive and lead away from God even the elect. So we must always remain humble and wait on the Lord, putting Him first and not our ego or own desires. As Saint Paul wrote and taught, we must "test the spirits", that is, we must constantly discern and test our impressions to allow God to confirm what is coming from Him and what is not.

We humans can be inclined to seek for "signs" from God. What are the greatest outward signs?        The sacraments are the greatest outward signs in which God pours out his own substance, his own divine life. There is a time and place for God to give signs, but for the most part, He wants us to use our brains, to make good use of the intelligence and responsibility and free will that He has given us, always with humility, and pondering the wonders of the Lord as Mary did, and waiting on the Lord as Mary and all the saints did. Even Jesus waited on the Father when He first attempted to do the Father's will and was left in the Temple at the age of 12. When Mary and Joseph found Him He returned home with them and remained hidden until He was 30 when, called by the Father through the preaching and baptizing of his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus began his public ministry. He was very patient.

How can we understand having personal dreams with apparently deep spiritual and practical applications in our life and our family's life?        Saint Joseph's dreams were powerful because it was God who needed to confirm Joseph in the will God wanted him to carry out for the glory of God and the salvation of humanity. For normal people like us God can use dreams to nudge us in a direction, or to disturb us and open a possibility, but we must always discern and test such things over time and not be in a hurry. It is hazardous to jump when you can't see what's in front of you... it could be any kind of danger; so it is best to wait until God makes it undeniably clear.

What about when we come to have a general sense of closeness to Jesus throughout the day and always?        True closeness to Jesus is what the Father wants for everyone and this is holiness, the state of grace. However, emotionally, one need not feel that at all. On the contrary, Saint Mother Teresa almost from the beginning of her work with the poor felt, until she died, abandoned by God. That is how she felt emotionally and spiritually, but He did not abandon her. On the contrary the Holy Trinity was intimately at work constantly in and through her, and it was to keep her simple and humble and safe from attacks of the evil one on her soul that God withdrew emotional and spiritual consolations and left her feeling desolate. This is the mystery of how God works in human souls. He is supreme and He does his will, not ours, and it is always for the best for us, for others, for humanity, for the Church, for our family, for the community, and for the glory of God.

How can one know if one is being called to something very great?        If it is truly God at work, He will gives us the awareness and knowledge that we need in order to be faithful to his will, but nothing more. To use Star Wars terminology, to be overly preoccupied with greatness is probably a path that leads to the "dark side", that is, away from the true light which is God, the radiance of divine love. Only selfless sacrificial love is truly great, that is the greatest thing in the universe, which shows that Jesus' offering of Himself at the hands of his persecutors, like a humble and trusting lamb to allow the Father to accomplish his plan for our salvation, is the greatest thing in the universe.

What if a person is being called to something great but hesitates not out of insecurity in God, but because of the plain desire to live out a "normal life"?  All good actions generally involve a cost to the person doing them; so it is normal for human beings doing or called to do the great acts of selfless sacrificial love to be tempted to escape the cost, the effort, the suffering associated with serving others and God. Married people are tempted to be single again and just take care of themselves, priests and religious are tempted to escape their regimented lives and just look after their own needs and desires, and so it goes.

Can a person be called to something maybe even "biblical"?      This could mean anything. What is truly biblical is walking with the Lord humbly, hidden from the eyes and ears of others. When God is truly putting divine pressure on someone, like the prophets, it is like Saint Paul wrote: a burning in his soul requiring him to proclaim the Word of the Lord or if he didn't he would burst. When people are psychologically imbalanced and caught up within the traps and wounds of their own ego self, they may easily be inclined to misinterpret their imaginings and feelings for the real thing, but they are not. When we are not healthy in every way - physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually - it seems unfortunately easy to mistake our imaginings for God's intervention.

However, it is not without hope. Many of the saints started out neurotic or even with psychotic breaks, but because the Lord was truly working in them, and they sincerely attended to pondering the Word of God - both by listening to Him at Holy Mass and also reading Him when they had access to the Sacred Scriptures - then God worked with and through their precarious or fragile state in order to manifest his power and loving mercy. It is universally true that the saints counted first and foremost on opening themselves to God through the sacraments: frequent Confession, frequent when not daily Communion, frequent prayer and contemplation, at times of grave illness the Anointing of the Sick, and just as importantly, manifesting the fruit of God's presence in them through abundant and generous works of mercy and charity especially to the poor, the sick, the elderly, the abandoned, and all persons in need, beginning of course with their own family and other obligations.

That is why many or most of the saints cannot be imitated in the unfolding of their lives, because in the earlier years they were often not completely balanced, but only in their practice of the faith, of hope in God, and of practical works of charity. It is only how a person is at the natural end of their life and what sort of spiritual fruit and the quantity of fruit in the service of others that we can look back and see the hand of God at work, which gives all the glory to Him, and reveals the saint as a truly humble instrument of God.