by Father Robert Lauder
It is not clear to me whether I have a radically new image of God, different from previous images I had, or whether it is more a matter of emphasis. The “new image” is of God as constantly and dynamically active in my life and in everyone’s life.
I suspect that many factors have contributed to my current image of God, factors as varied as celebrating the Eucharist, giving homilies, engaging in spiritual reading, having discussions with a spiritual director, celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation both as a confessor and as penitent, philosophizing both in class and in my room about the mystery of God and, perhaps especially, private prayer. One contributing factor was thinking about the meaning of vocation for a homily I had to give at a Sunday Eucharist. Preparing that homily moved me to think of God as a dynamic presence in everyone’s life. God’s active presence is a constant.
In this column I wish to discuss two meanings of vocation, meanings that are related though not identical. The first meaning is what Catholics usually are referring to when they speak of a vocation: a spiritual call to priesthood or the religious life or marriage. Though a person can have a spiritual call to the single life, I don’t think Catholics usually intend to include that when they speak of a vocation. That is unfortunate because the single life can be a marvelous vocation, a vocation that can lead to all sorts of opportunities to do good, opportunities that may not be available to a celibate priest or a religious. All the vocations that are intended with this first meaning involve a life commitment.
I suppose what has happened in my understanding of priesthood, religious life, marriage and the single life is that I see that every one of these might be described as a “work in progress.”
Of course there is some finality to being ordained or in taking vows, but what I see more clearly than I saw previously is that God is constantly active in a person’s life even after the person has made a life commitment. I suspect that, without realizing it, I had slipped into a kind of “deism,” picturing God as a bystander in relation to our lives, perhaps an interested bystander but a bystander nevertheless. I now think of God as always involved, always actively loving.
This brings me to the other meaning of vocation. Everyone is called by God. What I am thinking of is the call that every person receives, the call to enter a deep love relationship with God. Everyone is called- not only Catholics, not only Christians, not only those who believe in God but everyone. Even agnostics and atheists are called. God’s love reaches out to everyone. One of the great mysteries is that God, Who holds the universe in existence, wants a love relationship with everyone. Salvation and damnation hinge on whether a person says “Yes” or “No” to God’s invitation.
God speaks to human beings. I don’t mean that we hear God’s voice the way we hear the voice of some human acquaintance. Perhaps the saints occasionally have the experience of hearing a “divine voice” but I don’t think most of us have that experience. God speaks to us in a uniquely divine way. That God’s way of communicating with us is different from the way that other humans communicate with us does not mean that God’s way is inferior or less real. In fact God’s way, though mysterious, is more real. God might speak to us through our consciences, through nature, through historical events, through art, through our families and friends.
I believe that when God speaks to us, God calls. God’s speech is never idle or superficial or without a purpose or a plan. God’s speech is for the sake of relationship. God’s speech, God’s call, is an invitation, a unique invitation that only God can offer.
When God speaks, calls and invites, God supports. This, I believe, is very important to remember. God will never call us to the impossible, never call us to do that which we cannot do, to accomplish what we can not accomplish. Whatever God is calling us to or inviting us into, God will be constantly present supporting us. We are never alone. God will never abandon us.
I think that for a considerable time in my life I resisted listening to God because I was afraid. I believed that if we surrendered to God’s will, we would be saints but without fully realizing what I was doing, I resisted God’s presence, resisted surrendering. This was really stupid on my part. God wants what is good for us more than we want what is good for us. [hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.