It doesn’t happen too often, but this year the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist falls on a Sunday. The scriptures for this solemn holiday in the Church all have echoes of a common thread… They have to do with the unfolding of God’s work for us in Salvation History. The way that work is spoken about, in all three readings today, is through the language of human vocation. This is no accident. Our salvation is lived out in the day-to-day living of our lives. Just as our salvation is not an abstract concept, neither is our being in this world. God has purpose for every soul who enters this world, and perhaps on this day when we contemplate this idea in our scriptures, we are invited to consider its significance for our lives.
Mindful of the wisdom of St. Augustine in his Confessions, we acknowledge with the venerable saint that “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee, O God”. In this heartfelt and poetic expression, we find the confession of a very human yearning for God. It is natural to the human person, and is the source of ultimate longing in our lives. We are, by nature, a people for whom our religious experience and spiritual realities are planted deep within our being. Our lives are experienced most fully when we live those lives in reference to our relationship with God. When we remove God from our lives, or disregard our relationship with God, it is not uncommon for us to find ourselves disconnected, unmoored, and adrift in life. This might seem obvious to many people of faith, but it bears saying. Human beings are purposed to live in communion with God in whom we find our happiness (CCC 45).
Practically speaking, we might find ourselves wondering, from time to time, how we can be sure of our purpose, or our vocation in life. It calls for some discernment, for prayerful (inviting God into the process) reflection. Taking some time to consider our gifts and talents is an important aspect to this discernment. St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that grace builds on nature, or put into common everyday language, we are not called to be someone or something other than we are. Consultation with family and friends, people who know us well and who understand something of what “makes us tick” is another prudent part of a good discernment process.
I once read an article about discovering our purpose in life. In it, the author identified five key steps. First of those steps, he said, was to ask yourself what is it that makes you come alive? What gives you joy? What excites you about life? St. Ignatius reminded us that the deepest desires of our heart are God’s deepest desires for us. So follow the truth that lies within. The second of the five steps was to pay attention to the flow of life, and the opportunities and challenges it offers to us. If we have discerned what really gives us life, and we pursue it, then we can trust that the experiences and opportunities that come to us are gifts to us from God, for our growth, our development, our becoming all that God desires for us. The third step seems counterintuitive, but it is important. It is to stop. Stop and be aware. Stop and give thanks. Stop and be attentive to what it is that life is teaching and offering. The fourth step involves listening. We listen with the ears of our heart for the whispers of God coming to us on the breath of our human experiences. This listening allows us to recognize all that comes to us as pure gift. We wouldn’t want to miss what God is sharing with us in our lives. Otherwise we might breeze on by and be the poorer for it. The fifth and final step identified by the author was to respond. When we experience the joy of living our life fully, when we are attentive to all that it has to offer and are able to stop and be attentive as well as to listen and learn, then our choice for how we live is our response to the grace and gift of our life. We make a difference in and for the world with intentionality and conviction, knowing that God who purposes all things in our lives, blesses us, and will bring to fulfillment all that is rightly begun in Him.
NOTE: On this Sunday, know that you have been prayed for at Lourdes, and are today being prayed for by pilgrims from our parish at the altar of the great Cathedral of Chartres in France.