Discerning a Vocation in Five Easy Steps!
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
February 4, 2019

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C) on February 3, 2019, at Our Lady of Wisdom Parish at Texas State University in San Marcos, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19; Psalm 71; 1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:13; Luke 4:21-30.

Twelve years ago this weekend, I preached at Sunday Mass for the first time. I was a fairly new seminary student, and I was thrilled to be invited to preach at my college alma mater, the very place where I claimed my Catholic faith as my own. What better place to first preach on the Sunday scriptures than at my “home” parish? Once I looked up the gospel passage, I wasn’t so thrilled. It’s the story of how people reacted when Jesus preached at home for the first time! In case you wondered: no, the University of Rochester Newman Community did not try to throw me off a hill or into the Genesee River.

Tonight, with the story of Jeremiah’s call in the first reading, with a bunch of people who were willing to come to Mass during the Superbowl, it makes sense to talk about vocations of every kind.

But first, let us take a moment to celebrate God’s continuing invitation to receive his mercy and to be agents of that mercy to others.

In the decades before Vatican II, the word “vocation” was reserved for people who were pursuing lives as priests or religious. We don’t see it that way anymore. Everyone has a vocation. Jeremiah tells us that before God formed us in our mothers’ wombs, God dedicated each of us to a special purpose that we are uniquely qualified to do. Through our baptism, God calls each of us to build up the kingdom. Every time we dip our fingers in that holy water, we remind ourselves that God calls us continually to fulfill our baptismal call, even as our life circumstances change and evolve. We build the kingdom through our professional lives – be we working in the sciences, in business, or in the humanities. We build the kingdom through our interpersonal relationships – with our roommates and families, with our classmates and co-workers, with friends and strangers alike.  

What if you don’t think you’re qualified to build up the kingdom? You’re not alone. Moses didn’t feel worthy. Neither did Mary. But we must remember what St. Paul so eloquently tells us today: love never fails. As long as we allow the love of Christ to shine within us, God uses all our gifts to build up the kingdom.

I never thought of being a priest until it suddenly hit me on May 26, 2001, at the age of 27. I now realize that God gifted me with interests, talents, and experiences throughout my life that led directly to my “lightning bolt” moment. 

Four years out of college, my career had led me back to Pittsburgh for a job that perfectly fit my engineering talents, working on a large telescope that photographed the very planets and moons I had read about in second grade that first inspired my interest in science. One day while singing at St. Paul’s Cathedral, I suddenly felt a jolt. Was God calling me to use my facilitation skills to spread the vision of the Church that I had first experienced in college? I’d still be helping people to “see the light,” but not as an optical engineer: I’d be helping in a whole new way!  

God’s plan was completely different than what I had imagined. But if God’s plans aren’t clear to us, how can we discern what God calls us to do? Here’s the good news: Discerning your vocation is NOT like a TV quiz show. God wants us to enter his divine plan as deeply as possible. It’s not as if God gives us one chance to guess what our life’s pursuit is supposed to be, and we are doomed to misery if we guess wrong. When Samuel didn’t recognize that God was calling him, God gently called him again and again until he figured it out. When I was 25 years old and a little old lady had asked me if I had ever considered the priesthood, I laughed. When my sister first suggested that I talked with the Paulist Fathers, I ignored her. However, God didn’t give up on me.

Here’s the news that some people may not like to hear: Discernment is a life-long process. But here’s some more good news: if we pursue what we love, we will discover our vocation. The trick is we have to stay open to all the possibilities that God lays before us.

Sometimes when we’re making choices, we think up “deal breakers” that restrict our options. “I refuse to take an 8 AM class.” “I refuse to take a job where I have to wear a business suit.” “The person I marry must make at least ‘X’ number of dollars a year.” Absolutes are helpful when we’re choosing between good and evil, but it’s dangerous to limit our options when we’re choosing between two goods.

What if Moses had told God, “Sorry, I don’t speak in public”? What if Mary had told Gabriel, “Joseph and I are putting our careers first for the next five years. Then we’ll think about having kids”? What if Jesus had said, “If this first preaching experience at home doesn’t go well, I’ll never do it again”? Moses, Mary, and Jesus made sacrifices when they said “yes” to God, but I’m sure they experienced great joy in building the kingdom. God wants us to be happy, but we can’t fathom all the possible pathways to happiness on our own!

Back to my story. After my “lightning bolt” moment, I wanted to join the Diocese of Pittsburgh and stay close to my family. But after several years of dialogue with the Diocese, I detected a “deal breaker”: I wanted to be a diocesan priest because I understood where I’d live and what I’d do. Once I realized this, I took a few deep breaths, surrendered control, and the Holy Spirit quickly led me to the Paulist Fathers…. And I can honestly tell you now, in hindsight, that I am a much better priest than I was an engineer!  

Even though I’ve been ordained for 7 years now, I’m more fully realizing my vocation with the Paulists every day. If you’ve ever had a thought that God may be asking you to consider a vocation to religious life or priesthood, there are ways to explore this thought in the company of others. The Diocese of Austin is hosting a “Project Andrew” day for men considering religious life and priesthood on March 9. They’re hosting a similar “Project Miriam” day for women in October. I also plan to come back celebrate daily Mass in March and April here, and you can sign up to meet with me those afternoons for spiritual direction. You’re always welcome to talk with me about anything you’re discerning! And for those gentlemen who are discerning a little bit more seriously, I can help arrange for you to attend the Paulists’ “Come and See” weekend February 22-24 in Washington, DC. I can help cover the airfare, and our seminarians will even throw in a free night-time tour of the national monuments!

Three things that people often consider “deal breakers” when discerning about religious life are obedience, poverty, and celibacy. While each is a counter-cultural choice, each opens a person up to alternate routes to happiness. “Obedience” comes from the Latin word for “to listen.” Superiors in religious orders today engage their charges in extensive dialogue with the Holy Spirit while discerning new job assignments. It doesn’t work nearly that well for most people in corporate America. Poverty doesn’t have to mean living in an unfurnished cell. It often means that your community attends to your food, clothing, and shelter needs, freeing your time up for other things. Celibacy allows you to love many people broadly, whereas marriage calls you to love one person deeply. 

Enough yammering. I’ll close with five points to remember about discerning a vocation of any kind. There will be a group quiz afterwards, so pay attention!

  1. Remember that God loves you. 
  2. Remember that God wants you to be happy. 
  3. Develop your God-given talents and interests. 
  4. Be open to all possibilities from God. 

So let’s review these first four points. Don’t worry! Be happy! Stay interested! Stay open! The last point is that:

  1. Discernment is a life-long process. 

So, we’ll call number five Repeat. So the key to discerning God’s call in our life is simply: Don’t worry! Be happy! Stay interested! Stay open! Repeat! Don’t worry! Be happy! Stay interested! Stay open! Repeat!…