By Henry Frank
Everyone has a vocation. In fact, everyone likely has many vocations, John Neafsey (pictured), author of A Sacred Voice Is Calling, explained to participants in OIS’s Contemplative Leaders in Action (CLA) program in November. But having a vocation and knowing what that vocation is at a given point in time are not the same.
The classic Jesuit example is St. Ignatius Loyola. Five hundred years ago he was wounded in battle by a cannonball, which radically altered his plans. He had intended to win glory as a soldier. He ended up becoming a priest. He left his home on a religious mission to Jerusalem but never made it there. He spent the rest of his life in Rome administering a nascent religious order. Along the way he practiced the art of discernment, developing his own rules, which allowed him to shift his understanding of his vocation as his circumstances changed.
Asked to define “vocation” in a recent interview with OIS and the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, Br. Matt Wooters, SJ, posed this question, “What are you good at, what are you passionate about, and how do you want to live your life? How do you want to love the world?”
Answering that requires discernment, and the answer can change or evolve over time—the world in 2022 is not the world we knew in 2019, nor are any of us unchanged.
In October, Margaret Silf (pictured), author of Inner Compass, spoke to CLA participants about Ignatian discernment. She explained, “The art of discernment is about cooperating with what draws us closer to God and to each other and working against what is pulling us the other way.” To practice the art of discernment is to be in tune with yourself, aware of the thoughts, desires, and emotions that animate your decisions. Some feelings are pulling you toward God, and some are pushing you away. Recognizing the difference is key—it is what Jesuits mean by “discernment.”
In his conversation with CLA, Neafsey described the process of discerning a vocation as “listening to our hearts and listening with our hearts to the ways that the needs and the sufferings of people in the world are calling out for intelligent, compassionate attention.” The discernment of a vocation involves recognizing what gifts we have, how we can use them, and where they are needed. In other words, “How am I going to love the world?”
Members of OIS’s Hispanic Ministry have been reading and reflecting on Walking with Ignatius in a grupo de conversaciòn espiritual. The book is an extended interview with Father General Arturo Sosa, SJ, published for the Ignatian Year. Fr. Sosa states: “Ignatius never saw him – self as having converted but as being a pilgrim. He never believed that he’d reach his goal. Christian life is a pilgrimage in which you put aside your plans to set out on a journey, allowing yourself to be guided, accompanied, open to surprises.”
In March, we will celebrate the 400th anniversary of Ignatius’ canonization. He spent his life discerning and living out his vocation. May we listen, discern, and have the courage to respond to our own.