Monday, June 4, 2007

How do we know if we have a vocation?

A dear friend of mine, Adoro, who blogs as many of you know at a site known as Adoro Te Devote. We don't know if the blog was named after her or St Thomas Aquinas' poem and hymn of the same name. Adoro from time to time muses as to whether or not she has a vocation, being in her thirties and still single and very much a devout Catholic. And when she muses, crowds flock to her blog to see what she has to share. And you can see what they have to share, too.

Recently, after she was questioned by one of the priests at her parish if she thought she might have a vocation, and that being the first time a priest had ever raised the subject with her, she wondered on her blog why priests don't raise the subject of religious vocations with women more often.

Well, this is not quite on the same point, but Father Mark Pavlik, the pastor of St Olaf Parish in downtown Minneapolis, raised the subject of vocation discernment in the bulletin for next Sunday, using the metaphor of baking bread. And this is for you, Adoro:

When I lived on the East Coast before I was a priest, I had a friend named Mary whose mother was an amazing cook. Whenever I would stop by their house, it seemed her mother was always in the kitchen cooking or baking something. And if she wasn’t cooking when you got there, inevitably she would make something for you when you got there — “have a seat dear, I’m making cookies…” (always a good reason to stick around). Mrs. P., as she was affectionately known by everyone, is a woman of great faith and love who has powerful insight about the life of faith and the ways of spiritual life. She has the innate ability to see ways of God very clearly in the midst of everyday life.

Just before I left to begin my studies for seminary, I stopped by to say goodbye to Mrs. P., who was making bread in her kitchen. She listened intently as I explained how I was ready to begin my journey to the priesthood, and while I was not entirely sure I believed the things that I said, it was my story and I was sticking to it. I think Mrs. P. perhaps saw through my charade of assuredness and gave me some insight that has proved priceless for my years of study and ministry as a priest.

She encouraged me to think of myself in formation like the large ball of bread dough. The analogy was helped by the actual ball of dough that she was kneading as she spoke. “You just have to let yourself be dough in God’s hands, dear. Let our Lord work with you and form you. There are going to be times when you are going to swell up, like the yeast in the bread dough, and God is going to need to press you down and keep you on track. If you let Him, he can make something great and wonderful — like one of those big cinnamon rolls you get at the mall. If you don’t let Him, you may just end up dry crusty bread that no one’s going to want at all.”

It was plain and simple — let God take control and there can be great transformation into something beautiful. This transformation is often times difficult and comes at a price. The price of a little divine kneading is minimal compared to what God can make out of us, through the process. And that process is very clear if we think of how bread is made and it’s a lesson which is perfect for us to consider on this Sunday as we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

The grains of wheat are taken and crushed and pressed together and transformed into bread. Then during Mass, the bread is transformed into the Body of Christ, which is, in turn, broken and shared among the Body of Christ, the community of believers. And from our sharing in the Bread of Life, we are called also to be transformed — to allow God to work with us and change us into something wonderful for Himself and for the world.

But change is sometimes hard and we don’t often like to be broken or kneaded because that can mean moving on from a place that we find comfortable or secure. In those times in my own life when I am hesitant to change, I remember Mrs. P. and those words of hope she gave me that day in the kitchen: Let God work with you and do what it takes to make something wonderful for Himself and for the world.

If we want to change the world, we have to begin with ourselves. Begin in small ways and let God in, even in those times we feel broken, and realize the great and wonderful things that God can do when things are blessed and broken and offered to Him.

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