Archive for the ‘Discernment’ Category

If You Quit, You Can’t Blame God

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

We all feel tempted to quit sometimes. Whether they are related to relationships, parenting, or work, there are moments in life when we simply want to throw up our arms in frustration and give up. And, sometimes, we want to blame God. After all, God allowed circumstances to be so hard. Obviously, God doesn’t want us to accomplish whatever it is we are trying to accomplish. Otherwise, the road wouldn’t be so full of potholes and mountains.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the premiere performance of “Present Company Excluded,” a play written by Doug Foresta. Based on the life of Herbert Roth, it tells of a young Jewish boy living in Roth, Germany in the years leading up to World War II. As Roth prepares for his Bar Mitzvah, he questions everything about God. Why doesn’t God talk to him the way he talked to Abraham? Why did God allow his mother to die? Why is God allowing his father’s business to fail and his friends to ignore him simply because they are Jewish?

Towards the end of the play, his step-mother, who Roth wants nothing to do with, is encouraging him to come with her to apply for a visa to leave Germany and go to America. His father has already failed in this task and Roth sees no point to trying again. He has resigned himself to his fate and feels that God is keeping them in Germany. His step-mother tells him that they have to keep trying, because “If you quit, you can’t blame God.”

There is a great deal of truth to that statement. Indeed, it can be very difficult to discern what God wants from us in life. There are certainly times when it seems every door is being slammed against us. It seems that there is no point in continuing and that God must want us to take a different path. Sometimes, He does.

But if that is the case, then the window will open. Other opportunities and circumstances will come our way. If we continue to pray, however, and trust that God is with us, and no other paths open up to us, then we have no reason to quit the road we are on. Yes, it may seem impossibly hard and the outcome uncertain, but we need to keep trying. We need to keep getting up every morning and do our best and leave the rest to God.

God is the one ultimately in charge. I love the statement by Blessed Mother Teresa, “God doesn’t call us to be successful, only faithful.” Our success or failure is determined only by God. He has His reasons for having us on the road we are on. The roadblocks, too, are there for a reason. Although, often it is only in looking back that we can appreciate them. As Roth stated in the play, his mother dying led to his hated step-mother joining the family. She would be the person who would ultimately save all of their lives. God does work in mysterious ways.

Yes, circumstances are hard. But, if we quit, we need to own it. If we stop trying, we can’t blame God and say that it is His fault that things didn’t work out.

BooK Review: “Where do Priests Come From?”

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Where Do Priests Come From?

by Elizabeth Ficocelli
Waterford, MI: Bezalel Books, 2010

From a child’s perspective, priests can sometimes seem very mysterious. After all, they dress differently and live differently and do different things than all of the other people in their lives. It can be hard to imagine that they were once little boys. Elizabeth Ficocelli has written a charming, informative book “Where do Priests Come From” which attempts to answer many of the questions children might have about priests and the lives they lead.

Ficocelli talks about how priests are called by God to the priesthood, how they may have dreamed of being an astronaut or a doctor or a fire-fighter, but one day they heard a quiet voice in the hearts inviting them to become a priest and they said “Yes.” She discusses the discernment process and the time in seminary. She mentions the different types of priests and the vows they take. She mentions the long list of ways that they minister to other people, but also emphasizes that they are still people who also have a need to relax and enjoy hobbies. They also sometimes make mistakes and need to go to confession (this was the fact that my own two sons were most surprised by!)

This book is intended for young boys to encourage them to think about becoming a priest. As such, it is a great vocation tool. Ficocelli has done a wonderful job with this book. One can only hope that there will be a companion volume for girls: “Where Do Sisters Come From?”

“Why Did God Make Me This Way?”

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

“God has created me to do Him some definite service.” Those words came from Cardinal John Henry Newman, who will be beatified this September. He continues “I have my mission. I may not know what it is in this life but I shall be told in the next. . . He has not created me for naught. . . Wherever I am, whatever I do, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me – still God knows what He is about.”

Those words apply not only to us, but also to our children. One of the roles of a parent is to help a child discern his or her vocation, not only in terms of marriage or religious life, but job choice as well. I’ve been reading “You Can Be Everything God Wants You to Be” by Max Lucado. The whole point of the book is that God has given you a specific purpose and the gifts to fulfill that purpose. The key to finding joy in life is to look at your gifts and figure out where you belong. And so, as my children grow up, I try to look at their gifts and steer them in the right direction.

I know that the final decision of what they do with their lives resides with them. They will no doubt take several career paths in their lives. This process is made more complicated by the fact that my older son has some recently diagnosed special needs. We always knew he was “different,” that life was a little harder for him than for other kids (and by extension, for us). Yet, the formal diagnosis of that fact has caused me to reevaluate his future. What is possible for him? Where will life take him? He asked me “Why did God make me this way?” It broke my heart. It hurts to know that you are different simply by virtue of your birth. It hurts to see your child hurting. I had no good answer except to tell him that God made him that way for a reason, that he does have a special purpose in this world. While, at this moment, I’m not sure what that is, like Cardinal John Henry Newman, I trust that God knows what he is doing.

The Choices We Make

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the choices we make in life. On any given day, we make any number of choices. Many are inconsequential – Cheerios or toast for breakfast, the red or black shoes, etc. Then, there are the decisions that change the course of one’s whole life – who to date, what college to go to, whether to get married or enter religious life or stay single, what job to take, where to live, and so on.

Steve and Isaac Yoder write a father and son column for “The Wall Street Journal Sunday.” The column for April 26, 2009 focused on Isaac’s need to make a decision on which college to attend. Both father and son suffer from difficulty making decisions. In this particular column, they were discussing an article by Professor Barry Schwartz on “The Paradox of Choice.” The point of Prof. Schwartz’s article is to make a decision based on your “core requirements” rather than searching for the “elusive best.” Those who are satisfied with less end up happier in the long run.

We make the best decisions we can at the time based on the information we have at the moment. If we are wise, we pray about them. Even with such solid decision making, however, there often comes a time in life when we look back and wonder “Did I do the right thing?” Did I actually follow God’s plan or did I totally screw it up and go on my own path? What would life have been like if I chose what was behind Door A instead of Door B? I was discussing this with the women’s Bible study I attend. One of my friends very wisely remarked, “Maybe you were meant to screw up the plan.”

It is true. Regret serves no real purpose. I have a good life and I am very thankful for it. Spending time wondering what might have been is time wasted. Life might have been better or worse. The only guarantee is that it would have been different. God is also bigger than any decision I have made or may make. I am firm believer that God can bring good out of anything. If we screw up the plan, God comes up with another one for us. God is forgiving and good. He knew when He gave us free will that sometimes we would make decisions other than the ones He would have made for us. I don’t think that means that God stops using us to achieve His purposes. It might take longer. We might have to get there by a more convoluted route, but if we try to live a God-centered life, God will somehow help us to achieve the life we were meant to live. I take great comfort in that.

Finding Where One Belongs

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

I went to go visit my best friend and her three month old baby yesterday. The baby is beautiful, an absolute gift from God. Like all new parents, my friend and her husband are studying her every move and characteristic, trying to determine where she fits in their family. Whose eyes and nose does she have? Whose hair color? Where did she get that way she sticks out her bottom lip? I did the same thing when my own children were small, as my own parents did with me. Even now, I look in the mirror and see characteristics of different members of my family. We all want to know where we belong, where we fit in the bigger picture.

The same thing happens with our place in the world at large. We grow up and try to figure out where our path lies. What is our role in the big picture? We believe that God put us here for a reason, but what is that reason? What is the particular contribution that we have to bring to life on Earth? That’s a question that does not always have an easy answer. Some people are lucky. They seem to know from a very early age exactly what they were meant to do, who they were meant to be. For most of us, however, life is more of an unfolding; careers more temporary. I know the question of where I belong is one I ponder on a regular basis. I also wonder where my children’s lives will lead them. I know that God put them here for a reason, too.

So much in life seems left to chance, but as I have often heard it said, “There are no coincidences, only God-incidences.” So, then, I have to believe that the people we come across, the lives we touch, the jobs we do, all are part of some master plan. We have free will and obviously make choices about our lives, but God is there, working behind the scenes, helping to bring good out of the chaos. From the day that we are born, each one of us plays a role in so many people’s lives, often times in ways we never realize or imagine. We may never do something that goes down in the history books. We may never even make the local newspaper. Yet, our simple personal interactions can and do change other’s lives.

We all do have a role to play in this world. God made us all for a reason. We do need to pray to help figure out what that reason is, to help align our will with God’s will. Sometimes, the reason is not always evident (although sometimes in hindsight we can see it), but we need to trust that it is there, that our lives matter. We all do belong. We all have a place. God loves each and every one of us.

Trusting in God in the New Year

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

I always enjoy starting a new calendar. As the old year winds down, I go through the process of going over the old calendar and transferring any dates and appointments I need to remember such as birthdays, anniversaries, when to get the car inspected, etc. The new calendar with its fresh unblemished pages always represents hope to me. While the old calendar has something written on almost every day, the new calendar is relatively empty and full of potential. What will fill those days? That is the mystery yet to be discovered. I admit, I don’t necessarily approach the new year with the same unbridled enthusiasm as I had as I child, or that my children now possess. I know that the new year will bring sadness as well as joy, but I do hope that there will be more of one than the other.

I try not to make New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I think that they are bad. Obviously, we should all work to improve ourselves. Honestly, it is just that I know that I won’t keep them. Against my better judgment, last January I had made one goal (just one!) for the past year. I couldn’t make it happen despite my best efforts which only leaves me feeling disappointed. Apparently, it just wasn’t meant to be. Yet, there were many, many good things that happened during the year, things that I couldn’t have predicted looking at the blank calendar in the beginning of January. Every year unfolds in ways I can’t imagine. With each year, I’m getting a little better at letting go of any plans I might have and letting God lead my days.

I was flipping through a women’s magazine today that was full of ways to make the most of our lives in the new year. There was advice on dieting and health and making better use of our time. These are all good things. Yet, it seems that the most important advice was missing: the importance of trusting in God in the new year. Without God, all our best laid plans, whether they come to fruition or not, are not worth much. It is God who gives meaning to our days. It is only through prayer that we can come to know the will of God for our lives. It is only through spending quality time with God and offering our days to him that we can walk in his paths.

In Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire: The Encounter That Changed Her Life and It Can Transform Your Own, Fr. Joseph Langford writes how “prayer was the flame that rekindled the secret fire she carried within. . . She knew that everything stands or falls depending on the depth of one’s prayer.” It is only through prayer that our lives can be transformed and we become instruments of God’s will. Hand in hand with prayer goes faith. “Faith is a compass that infallibly points to true north, illuminating the presence, and the personality of God – even in the darkest night.” Mother Teresa held firm to her faith even in the midst of incredible poverty and hardship. She truly believed that God loved her and all of his creatures and that He wants only the best for us. God can bring good out of the worst calamity. God is always there with us. In this new year, we can follow Mother Teresa’s advice. We can pray and have faith in God in both the good and the bad moments that may come our way. We, too, can know that God loves us and has our best interests at heart. We can choose to walk in his will for the coming year. Then, when this year’s calendar has been all filled up, we will know that we spent the gift of time the way we were meant to.

In Search of Grace

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

“Grace” is one of those terms we often use without being quite sure of what it means. As a child, I was taught about being in a “state of grace” which meant that one hadn’t committed a mortal (a.k.a. serious) sin. As an adult, I’ve heard grace described as something we can tap into whenever we need help, a force just waiting for us to align ourselves with it. In the mothers’ Bible Study/ Book Club I attend, we are discussing Graced and Gifted: Biblical Wisdom for the Homemaker’s Heart by Kimberly Hahn. For the first chapter, Hahn offers the following discussion question: “How can you get the grace to do God’s will in his strength? Name practical and spiritual strategies for receiving that grace.”

I admit at times I have had the image of grace as water coming out of a faucet. Turn it on and grace appears. Turn it off and it vanishes and we are once again left to our own devices. Surely, there has to be more to it than that. In search of answers and clarification, I turned to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Second Edition (CCC). The CCC defines “grace” in several ways:

Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church. (CCC 2003)

Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God . . .partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. (CCC 1996)

Through baptism, we receive “sanctifying grace” which “enables [the soul] to live with God, to act by his love.” (CCC 1999-2000)

“Sacramental graces” are “gifts proper to the different sacraments. “Special graces” or “charisms” are “intended for the common good of the Church.” (CCC 2003)

Grace . . . cannot be known except by faith . . .reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an even greater faith. (CCC 2005)

What does all this mean for those of us struggling through life? First of all, grace is a gift from God, freely given. We cannot earn grace, although we can certainly pray for it. Through our prayer, we help align ourselves with God’s will. God will certainly provide us the help we need to do what He wants us to accomplish. Through the sacraments, God extends His gift of grace in a special way. We have the assistance we need to live out our own vocation and our part in the life of the Church. Grace seems much like the wind – we can’t see it, but we can see what it does. We have to trust that it is there, helping us along when we need it most.

The CCC offers a quote by St. Joan of Arc to illustrate what it means to trust in God’s providence. Joan was on trial and she was asked if she knew she was in God’s grace. She replied, “If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.” (CCC 2005) That seems like a good prayer for all of us. May God keep all of us in his grace.

God Calls Us to Different Paths to Perfection

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

One of the most comforting things about reading lives of the saints is realizing just how different all these men and women were. Some lived their lives in cloisters and dedicated their lives to prayer. Others worked in the missionary fields or died as martyrs for the faith. Some were priests or religious sisters while others were married or single. Some lived their whole lives in holiness. Others were great sinners and had a profound moment of conversion. There is no one-size-fits-all path to sanctity. While the basics are the same – love God and neighbor, there are as many different ways of fulfilling those commandments as there are people in the world.

It is so easy as we go through life to look at others and think that their lives are much more “perfect” than our own. “Perfect” is not used here in secular terms, as in “She has the perfect house, car, husband, etc.” No, here, “perfect” refers to a much less-tangible quality: the inner peace and holiness and spiritual wisdom that we seek. We look at others and think that they have found the “right” path. If we just imitate them then we, too, will be on the road to perfection.

Certainly, much can be learned from studying the lives of the saints. We could do far worse than to imitate some of their behaviors and attitudes. The same can be said for those we meet in our daily lives who inspire us. Yet, imitation will only get us so far. We can’t walk the same path as our favorite saint or our best friend because God gave us different gifts and different circumstances. Our task is to pray and discern where our gifts can best be put to use to help build the kingdom.

What is God asking of me today? How can I best show love? These are the simple questions with the not-so-simple answers that each one of us must consider on a daily basis if only because the answers change as our lives change. What God is asking today is different from what God asked five years ago or what God will ask five years from now. All we can do is humbly offer our lives to God and attempt to do His will wherever we find ourselves today.

I find this thought very consoling. Lately, I have been feeling very inadequate, comparing my own life to others and seemingly coming up short. This isn’t hard to do when surrounded by amazing people. I’m blessed to have such wonderful people in my life and I struggle to keep up. It always seems like there is more that I could be doing. I know I am far from perfect and that I have far to go on my own road to sanctity, but I’m trying. In reflecting on this desire I have to be like others, I have come to realize that God is not calling me to be them. He is calling me to be the best me that I can be in the circumstances I find myself, no more and no less. I wasn’t called to serve in the Peace Corps, or to travel the country giving lectures, or to be the mother of ten children. At least for the moment, I have been called to serve my local parish community, write articles, be the best wife I can be to my husband and the best mother I can be to my two boys.

I was reminded of St. Therese’s image of the different flowers in the garden. What good does it do for a daisy to want to be a rose or vice versa? We each have our own beauty to bring to the world. God calls each of us to our own path to perfection. It is our job to walk the path, one step and one day at a time.