(The following text is from a homily I gave at St. James Catholic Church in Tupelo on the 15th Sunday or Ordinary Time. This was the first day of the Tour de Priest, a 300+ mile cycling journey that I took to build awareness for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.)
What if each one of us simply sought to do what God wanted us to do, and nothing else? What if we made no excuses, had no other motives, felt no outside pressure, and just did the will of God. If we all did that, there would not be a shortage of priests and nuns, and the priests and nuns that we had would all be faithful and fruitful and joyful in their ministry. If we all sought God’s will, not just in word, but in practice, in habit, by every day entering into prayer, by seeking out the sacraments as taught by the church, and by seeking to stop sinning not because we are terrible but because we need to allow space for God’s mercy to reign, the we wouldn’t have to think about churches closing, or the future of the faith in this country. What if each of us simply sought to do what God wanted us to do, and nothing else?
Loving God is an art. There are parts to it that come naturally to us: We intuit that God is there, but we need help reaching out to him. St. Francis de Sales says that the first thing we must keep in mind is the assurance of God’s mercy. So much of our avoidance of God comes down to the things that we believe are wrong with us or the things that indeed we have done wrong. But this is the whole point of God, to wrap us in his mercy and assure us of his love. But do we seek that out? Or are we too afraid? Too embarrassed to go to confession, too used to avoiding the difficult parts of our life to trust that God will bring healing and peace?
That was me at 23. I knew that there was more to life than what the world could offer, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself. It was easier to be steeped in my sin, to seek peace in relationships or experiences that were always passing. Then I entered a Catholic church for the first time after many years away, and I had an experience of God’s presence that could not be mistaken. It was transcendent, it gave me a peace that I could not produce on my own. This is the love that God can give us if only we open ourselves to it.
The world will tell us that this is impossible. The world will say that it is slavery to abandon yourself to the will of another, but remember, the will we are giving ourselves over to is love itself, how in the world is that slavery? So, we need priests and nuns, and I think specifically the Lord has called me to seek out priests and nuns from this soil, from Mississippi. With all our diversity and beauty, and all our baggage and eccentricities, we need men and women to come forward to serve. And my job is to make the soil rich. My job as Vocation Director is to help young people understand how to listen to God’s will and follow it. Because otherwise they may have an initial love for God or impulse to do his will, but their attention can be snatched away in an instant simply because they were not taught anything different. They are like the seed on the path that is taken before it can bear fruit.
I see this in a young man or woman who assumes that their life’s course will be the typical one. “Hey, I want to get married and have a family, therefore, God is calling me to do that.” Well of course you want this for your life, that is only natural. But God calls some to be a witness to the supernatural, a witness to the fact that everything on this earth should be done with eternity in mind, and our most pressing, most rewarding, most urgent relationship is with the Lord. Every young person who takes their faith seriously should come with an open heart. Lord, I may want this, but what do you want?
My job is to help young men and women discern so that the persuasive voice of the world does not obscure the voice of the Lord in their discernment. The church’s teachings are radical, and they will always be challenged and rejected by many. But the church’s teachings are rooted in our belief that Jesus, and no one else, is the way and the truth and the life, and that truth can only be found when we seek to know God. Our world is in a desperate search for justice, but without God true justice will not be found. So someone who is open to God’s will is going to be open to being conformed to the truth that comes from God, and they will not seek to conform God to the truth as he or she sees it.
My job is to help young men and women see that worldly success will only take you so far. Many times we make decisions about our future based on fear. “What if my needs and those of my family are not provided for?” “What if I am misunderstood or ridiculed for not taking a more typical approach to success?” When our only goal is to do God’s will, God will give us the grace we need to overcome that fear. My needs have always been provided for as a priest in amazing ways, and often I have come to realize that I don’t need the things I think I do, and that those hang ups were actually keeping me from a deeper freedom in the Lord.
The church’s job is to provide rich soil for seeds to grow. Seek that out. Find good Catholic voices online when you have a question about the faith. Ask a priest or nun or sister or parish leader if you are struggling to follow the Lord’s will. Take advantage of the sacraments and make them a part of your life. Live fearlessly. And please, ask the question, “am I seeking to follow the Lord’s will?” If so, be open to the call to priesthood or religious life. If you have not been seeking to do God’s will, ask yourself, “where has this gotten me, am I fulfilled, or is there something missing that I can’t pinpoint?” That was the case for me, and if it’s the case for you, know that you are loved, and there is nothing to fear in coming to the Lord and his church and making a change.
What if each one of us simply sought to do what God wanted us to do, and nothing else?