There is a song from the St. Louis Jesuits in the 1980s with a beautiful, haunting melody. Some of the lines go, “By name I have called you. By name I have sent you. You are precious to me.”
These are verses from the Old Testament. They give us a very personal and affectionate view of vocation and mission, the main themes of this Sunday’s Gospel.
We are called by name. We are sent by name. Vocation and mission are very personal encounters with God. Our relationship with God is very much defined by His call for us, a call we live out by being sent, “missioned.”
The Lord also prescribes that we must live out this mission with total trust in him and with great generosity. Ignatius of Loyola puts it very inspirationally when he says that once we know God’s will for us, we must give our self totally to the work—totus ad laborem.
I have often said in homilies, talks or conversations that one weakness of our Catholic communities is, we seem to lack the missionary fervor or zeal that many born-again converts possess.
I have had several students and friends who were lukewarm in their practice of the faith, and yet when they were initiated into a born-again community, became zealous in living out their faith. They religiously attended Sunday worship and Bible study groups. They even worked to convert others. They somehow possessed a missionary spirit.
How do we nurture such a sense of mission? How do we develop a natural urge to proclaim God’s presence in our life? How do we come to know what God is calling us to?
First life task
One of my fundamental beliefs is that our first major life task when we come to the age of reason is to discover our life mission, our calling or vocation. How does one discover this? I think discovering—or rediscovering—our mission, our calling lies in knowing and understanding our story.
Daniel H. Pink, in his book “A Whole New Mind,” writes: “We are our stories. We compress years of experience, thought and emotion into a few compact narratives that we convey to others and tell to ourselves. That has always been true. But narrative has become more prevalent, and perhaps more urgent, in a time of abundance, when many of us are freer to seek a deeper understanding of ourselves and our purpose.”
The first stage in the formation program we run for public school teachers, principals and supervisors is self-awareness and self-acceptance. As I have shared in past reflections, we begin by asking the person, “What is your dream? What is the dream that inspires you?”
From this first question, we lead them to remembering. I am sure there are many other processes to do this, but what we use is remembering their significant moments in life and then classifying these into “highs” and “lows.” Then these are organized into a life line. We ask them to reflect on their life lines and discover the themes of their lives. We let them discover their stories again.
At the end of this process, we ask them to reflect on the question raised by Parker Palmer in his book “Let Your Life Speak”: “Is the life that I am living the same as the life that wants to live in me?”
Our call is from within. We must listen to our life. We must let our life speak.
In Ignatius of Loyola’s process in the Spiritual Exercises, our story is intertwined with the story of Christ. The Spiritual Exercises intertwines these stories through the central grace of the Second Week of the Exercises, or the Election Week.
It uses the stories or the narratives of the life of Christ as the content or the matter for prayer and reflection. I consider the grace of the week as the framework of the process of intertwining: “Lord, that I may see (or know) You more clearly, love You more dearly, follow You more nearly.”
In our story we come to see and know Christ. And the good news is, we need not edit the story of our life. In the good times and blessed moments, we discover the gracious God, generously giving us our life’s graces and gifts or talents.
In the bad times and failures, we discover the saving God, mercifully forgiving us our sins and shortcomings. In all this, we discover a loving God; the love with which he created us and the love with which he redeemed us.
“Lord, that I may see You more clearly” in my life. This is to see how in our life story our Christ is always present, guiding and loving us through it all.
The natural response to such a presence is, “Lord, that I may… love You more dearly.” And in the Ignatian process, “love is best expressed in deeds.” The loving is best expressed in the third grace, “Lord, that I may… follow You more nearly.”
This is the missionary character of our life story, that in seeing and loving Christ we follow him in his mission, all the way to the cross.
But there is more. It is following with the “more” or the “magis.” Here lies the fervor or zeal that marks the missionary character of our story. It is not just to see, to love and to follow. It is to see more clearly. It is to love more dearly. It is to follow more nearly.
Our story of living out the mission is infused with the passion for the more—the “magis.” At the same time, the story is more and more centered on the person of Christ. It is to see You—Christ—more clearly. It is to love You more dearly. It is to follow You more nearly.
“By name I have called you. By name I have sent you. You are precious to me.” We discover this God who calls us by name in our life story. We discover this God who sends us by name to live out His will, His mission for us in our life story. We discover this God who loves us, who treasures us, to whom we are precious in our life story.
Will we not live out this story by giving it our all—totus ad laborem—if it is to such a God we live this story for, and with?