January 11, 2024 at 7:00 a.m.


Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger

By Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

We hardly need another poll or survey to remind us of how our young people are eagerly seeking direction in their lives, many of them rudderless. “What do you want to be when you grow up” is a question they frequently hear, and probably find annoying. No more so, however, than the adults who can as easily have the tables turned on them with the question: “what are you doing to help them find their way?” Rather than play tug-of-war, we could rephrase both questions to ask, what can we do together to help our young people find their calling?

From a Christian standpoint, no component of our baptismal mission as adults is more important or urgent today than our duty to help young people discern their vocation in life. What is God calling them to be or to become? By “calling” I do not only mean a possible vocation to the priesthood or religious life, though that always is possible for some. Many other paths are open, however, including married life or a mission that is so singular and focused that it would require a total dedication, even a sacrifice of the richness of family and conjugal life. In any case, I am talking about more than a “career” that earns material wealth and worldly acclaim, much more than a job or occupation.

What any of us feels “called” to depends very much on what we value, what is important to us. What comes first. Is it the money? Let’s face it, worrying about having enough of it is what drives most people to work and some, sadly, to desperation, even to begging, borrowing and even stealing. I have heard one member of a couple say, I am working because my spouse loves money. My inclination there is to suggest that it is not the money he or she loves, so much as the security and control it represents. Money implies power, options and sometimes influence, but how many clear examples from history and personal experience do we need to teach us that money alone cannot buy happiness, friendship or stability. Anyone who has witnessed a family fracturing in squabbles over a decedent’s will can testify to this. The more we have the more we have to worry about losing, or of being taken advantage of.

So, if money is not the prime goal that we want to lead our young people to seek, what is? How can I help my children — grandchild or Godchild — find a purpose? It might be tempting to say that the first thing to do is to ask them. Pardon me, but that puts us right back where we started. It presumes that they have an idea. It’s something like asking a child, what would you like to eat for dinner. Chances are the child will demand what they like, not necessarily what they need. And why should any parent or guardian become a child’s maid or butler? It’s like what is said of true friendship. Friends always meet friends where they are, but they do not leave them there. A true friend — as any parent should be — wants to lead their child to what is really good for them, from a Christian perspective, to what will bring them to holiness, the state of existence that we aspire to in heaven. Godliness, in other words.

Godliness does not mean “other-worldliness.” Those whom we call saints are not people who walked on clouds while on earth or were exempt from the temptations of every descendant of Adam and Eve. As we may have heard, every saint has a past, but every sinner has a future. Saints are not born that way. Their road to holiness is the school of hard knocks, surrounded by the lures of the Evil One whose one intent is to turn them away from God and any awareness of how much they are beloved by God.

The Scriptures are full of narratives of how human beings are seduced by the Evil One and his minions away from the most fundamental truth about our humanity: that we are all made in the image and likeness of God and that God wants each and every one of us, without exception, to be saved, to be holy and to enjoy an eternity with God in heaven. Toward this end, God has a call for each and every one of us to follow a path in this world, “to know love and serve God,” as we read in the Catechism, and to enjoy an eternity together with God. Our calling or vocation is the path toward that end and each of us has one, if we take the time to discern that call.

While I cannot speak for others, for myself I can say that the reason I have followed the call to become a priest was not primarily based on a passion to achieve something, but a conviction that this is what God was calling me to become. At the time I was ordained, it was fashionable for a newly ordained to display on his ordination card the phrase “ordained to serve.” This is certainly true as an expression of what ministry is all about. Diakonia, which is the foundation of all Holy Orders, means just that: service. In a real sense, EVERY baptized person is a deacon, a person commissioned to serve God by serving others. For an ordained ministry, service or diakonia is at the root of all the stages that may follow, including priesthood and episcopacy, but service is the result of the commission not the goal.

When I was in Mexico on a mission recently, a deacon who accompanied me related a wonderful story of an encounter with one of the sisters who accommodated in her convent the group of pilgrims with whom we were traveling. She asked him, in Spanish, “¿Cuál es tu metá?” In English, “what is your goal?” He responded, quite spontaneously, something like, “I want to serve. I want to be a priest. I want to celebrate the sacraments with God’s people.” Or words to that effect. And all of these things are certainly laudable, exactly what we want a priest to DO. The hermanita (“little sister”), however, had something else in mind. She told him in no uncertain terms, “¡NO!” And she asked him again. Puzzled no doubt by her seeming negation of his vocational choice, she asserted, “¡Tu metá es Jesús!” In English, “your goal is JESUS!” How right she was.

What I have learned, what I know from personal experience, is that every truly human vocation is a call from God. It is never just a wish or a choice of an individual to be “ordained” or to “get married” or even to enter a profession or trade if it is truly to be called a vocation. It is a call from a source outside oneself, outside one’s own ego or desire. Speaking of priesthood, my own calling, I must profess that it was only when I became convicted that the call was from God, and had little to do with my own particular competence, skills or desires, that I was able to take this impossible step forward to aspire to a life of complete trust in God that would include the sacrifice of my right to choose marriage and family or a more lucrative professional career. I had aspired at an earlier time to become a commercial pilot and, in the course of my priesthood, was even admitted to the bar of the states of New York and Connecticut. These are not trophies I display. I am certainly proud of the affirmation after the long hours and expense I put in, but they have nothing to do with my ultimate goal or the reasons that I believe I am alive.

Mind you, I know many men and women in the legal and other professions that I am convinced are practicing as true ministers of God precisely through their service, many of them also people with families, who have raised children and formed them in the faith with love and great sacrifice. God knows how their love and service is something they offer daily as a prayer and fulfill not only a means to earn a living but of giving themselves fully to God and God’s people. They are following God’s call.

My point is to affirm that, for a Christian, all that we do and become is oriented toward responding to the calling that God has for each of us in this world. It is not about collecting merits or service points for what we do or have achieved, but in our commitment to hear the voice of God in our lives and to follow it. This is exactly what the Christian faithful must seek to do as an essential part of their baptismal mission: not only to follow their own call from God but to guide and assist others, particularly our young people, in discerning how God is calling them. This is why I feel compelled to do whatever I can to promote vocational collaboration throughout our Diocese, to build teams in our parishes and on our campuses who will work together to pray for, promote and accompany our young people as they seek to hear the voice of God and to follow that calling in their hearts.


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