We must question the Lord like Saul
It’s the feast of St Luke as I write this, and the Gospel of the day is that wonderful vademecum of the sending out of the 72 to preach in the power of Christ, without purse, haversack, spare tunic, etc, confident that the energy they bring to the task, the peace they wish on the homes they visit, will somehow beget a similar response in men of goodwill. And then comes the phrase which speaks so clearly of our own age: “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few.” Quo Vadis, the group for young people seeking to find their vocation by growing in faith and friendship, is three years old. Once a month young people gather for Mass, for catechesis, Adoration and for the strength which comes from their peers who are all seeking to do something beautiful with their lives and are not yet sure what that is. Some of those who came to the first meeting are now in the seminary; many are contemplating it as they pursue university courses.
St Luke, of course, was a disciple of Paul. Paul’s own sending out was somewhat more dramatic and, if we are honest, feels more glamorous than that of the 72. I suspect some of our young people might secretly long for God to do what he appears to do for Saul: that is, make their minds up for them about vocation, throwing the points at the crucial junction in life’s journey.
The drama of Saul’s conversion is intense and we may long for something which seems to so obvious, so definitive. But if we think that we are missing the point. We should remember that, at first, it is nothing of the sort. The road to Damascus sees Saul literally stopped in his tracks and blinded. At the level of his understanding and his will he is brought up short. Flung to the ground, he asks the question which is the root of all vocational discernment: “Who are you, Lord?” Often one experiences or articulates concerns about vocation at the level of: “What do you want me to do?” But in fact that question in secondary. Vocation follows as a consequence of an encounter with Jesus and the need to know the answer to: “Who are you, Lord?” Saul hears: “I am Jesus and you are persecuting me.” The Holy Name of Jesus means “God is Saving” or “God Saves”. “I am God is Saving and you are persecuting me,” he tells Saul. So vocation begins when I take responsibility for what I am doing in my daily life vis-à-vis this encounter with “God Saves”.
In response to that question – “Who are you?” – what would Jesus say to me, I wonder? He might not say to me: “I am Jesus and You are persecuting me.” But he might say: “You are resisting me through habits of sin. You are half-hearted in your following of me. You are too busy and distracted in your everyday life to recognise me” or “I am God Saves and yet you are subtly cultivating your own spiritual self-image so that you are in denial about your sinfulness and your weakness. You use me to boost your own sense of your importance or your goodness.” This is why all vocation begins with this question: “Who are you Lord?” The ongoing task of vocational discernment is to allow the Lord to clear away the things that which hinder me from knowing him. Like Saul, who is literally blinded and has to have his sight restored, I am metaphorically blind. I have to accept that I cannot “see” Jesus because I have gone about things in a way which is all too much to do with my own ambition and sense of who God is. So there will be some sense of a reversal, of my life no longer continuing along the path I had mapped out. The temptation is to skip quickly from this uncomfortable stage of blindness straight to the certainty of what I am to do. But that would be simply to move away from what is essential – that I seek the Lord and his will – to reassert an illusion of control.
Vocation is not the simple question of what I am to do; it is rather a question of what am I to do that fully reflects my identity. I can only discover who I am in relation to that question of who is the Other, the mysterious, hidden stranger who reveals himself in a way that invisible to the eye, as Jesus, God is Saving. Vocation, one can say, is not what I am to do; it is the question of what is the appropriate way in which I can order my life according to the revelation that God is saving me. It is only in asking: “Who are you?” of God that I discover that I can understand who I am in relation to this person Jesus, in relation to “God Saves”. Lots of other things will occupy me, will even, at a natural level, fulfil me. But none of them will save me.
To discover my vocation I have to keep asking the question “Who are you?” to hear that answer: “I am Jesus.” This is the question of identity, which long before it functions at the level of what I must do touches the personal. It is about who He is, the one who saves, and the extent to which I wish and am willing to entrust my whole life and person to that saving.