How Do You Know?

Since the last post, God’s plan has been on my mind a lot. Discernment is not a one-time thing; we must re-evaluate what it is God wants us to be doing each day, or this year, or with our life. Sometimes this is easier to do than others.

I’ve already shared how I ended up with my wife, but there was an important piece I left out. You see, I kept dating those girls until I felt uneasy, but what if I had started feeling uneasy in the relationship with my wife? What if I always went back and forth, feeling good for a while as I went down one path, changing as soon as I felt different, and then going down another until my feelings changed? Certainly there was something more reliable than my emotions that could decide such big questions, right?

When I was trying to decide whether to continue my discernment of the priesthood or begin dating again, I talked to a married man whom I respected. To this day, I’m not really sure why I talked to him; I had maybe spoken to him twice ever, and neither time was about anything deep. But for whatever reason (Holy Spirit?), I did talk to him, and he shared with me a little book that has provided me with three questions that have guided all of the major decisions in my life since. I don’t even remember the title of the book, but I do remember the three questions it gave to help one know God’s will.

The first question is, “Are you in a state of grace?” When a person is living in sin, it’s impossible to have clarity with what God wants you to do. How can you see Him when the eyes of your heart are clouded? How can you hear Him when your soul is rattling? Good decisions are made in peace, not in distress, and your heart is disturbed by sin. Before my choice of vocation, and before all the important decisions I have made since, I have gone to confession first. It is imperative.

The second question to ask yourself is, “Am I doing what I need to do today?” That was the tough one for me. Was I doing the best I could at my vocation (which, at that time, was being a student)? Was I praying each day? Was I exercising? Was I staying in touch with family and friends? It seems so simple, but how often do we let big decisions throw us out of whack? We stop doing what we are supposed to be doing, and all that does is cloud our thoughts and hearts more. It makes it harder to see the big picture, because we’ve stopped taking care of the little details. It keeps our hearts from being at peace and available to the movements of the Spirit.

And the third question is, “What do you dream about?” When I am praying, when I am envisioning my future, when I am just zoning out while eating my lunch, what do I imagine myself doing? See, it took me a while to realize that God wouldn’t ask me to do anything that would make me miserable. Whatever vocation God was calling me to was the one that would make me happiest and the one that had been written on my heart my whole life. It would be a vital part of who I was. It wouldn’t necessarily be what was easiest, but it would be what would fulfill me the most. If I really didn’t want to be a priest, if that idea really unsettled me and made me sad, then odds are God wasn’t calling me to that (assuming, of course, I had taken care of the other two aforementioned requirements). I realized that even when I tried to envision life as a priest, I didn’t imagine myself giving people the sacraments; I imagined giving homilies. I realized that I never thought of myself alone in the rectory; I always saw myself at the homes of parishioners or ministering at schools or prisons. It wasn’t really the priestly life that attracted me: it was serving God’s people. All of the parts of the priesthood that attracted me could be found elsewhere; I have found them through teaching. That which was uniquely “priest-y” was not what I was drawn to.

My current vocation provides not only an outlet for those dreams I had for my priestly life, but allows me to live in the state in which I most experience God. Jesus has always spoken to me mostly through other people. I have always been at my worst when left to my own devices and at my best when I am with others. I have always dreamed about watching movies with my wife and playing with my kids and caring for a home. Those are the dreams of my heart, and they were put there by God. He has always had His plan for me; I just had to choose whether or not to fulfill it.

And so arises the question of free will vs. God’s plan. To non-Catholics, we probably seem like predestination-ists. God knows what is going to happen, and it doesn’t really matter what we do about it. If he already knows, how can we have free will? To practicing Catholics, it probably sometimes feels like the salvation of the world rests squarely on our shoulders, and if we sin one more time the world will cave in and we will all fall into fiery Gehenna. Aren’t we going to be judged based on how well we live up to His high standards? Isn’t the salvation of our brothers dependent on our witness? Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Now before I get into this extended analogy that might shed light on this question, know this: I hate the University of Kansas. Hate. I grew up in Missouri and have had the pleasure of experiencing innumerable, mind-bendingly impossible heartbreaks by their teams during my lifetime. Sure, Tyus Edney was bad, but that could happen to anyone; Norfolk State was even worse, but other 15-seeds have lost; Quin Snyder blew up the program, but there have been other sure-fire coaching prospects that have busted. But the Fifth Down? The Nebraska Kick? The 19-point lead at Allen Field House? Those are the moments that make Mizzou heartbreak unique. But I digress.

I bring up KU because their season this year is a good (though imperfect) allegory for God’s plan for us. Of course, Bill Self is not Jesus. His teams are probably not good representatives of Christian lifestyles. But the events of their season could help us.

Every year, Bill Self comes into the season with a game plan for how he is going to get KU to the Final Four. His plan is the best plan assuming the best possible set of circumstances, and if all of his players were to cooperate perfectly with the plan, nothing could possibly go wrong. However, people don’t cooperate fully, and he pretty much knows that going in. Tyshawn won’t listen and will just keep driving to the hole completely out of control, no matter what the game situation. Robinson will take the first fifteen minutes of most games easy, mostly jogging up and down the court. Connor will miss tons of threes, even though it’s his only job. Heck, Josh Selby won’t even show up this year; he skipped on the team and game plan altogether.

And yet, it worked. They made it to the Final Four. Perhaps Self needed to alter the plans frequently. Perhaps it required special intervention at certain times and with certain players that he otherwise wouldn’t have planned on doing. But Bill Self made sure the final goal was achieved. He had a plan, and adjusted it as necessary, but the goal never changed and the original plan remained the standard for what they wanted to achieve and how they wanted to do it.

And so it is with God.

God is not going to let the plan of salvation fail. Every person is going to have whatever it is they need to choose Him. And yet, we can play a real part in the plan. We can decide whether it’s easier or harder for people to be saved, whether it’s more or less likely that this person will make it to Heaven. If He needs to, He will suit up, jump in the game, and be certain of the victory; that’s what the Gospels basically depict. But He is inviting us to be a part of it. He is asking us to play on His team. Not because He couldn’t do it without us, but because He wants us to share in the celebration of victory. He wants to share the joys of winning.

So what are we going to do? Are we going to show up, or are we going to take the easiest path and first out possible (Selby)? Are we going to work our hardest all the time at our vocations, or only when we think it really matters (Robinson)? Are we going to listen to those with authority who know what’s best and are telling us what to do, or forge onward with our own dumb mistakes over and over anyway (Taylor)? And when we know what our job is and we know when we are being called on, are we going to execute well (Tehan)?

That’s the question at hand. If I don’t do my part in bringing the faith to others, are they completely screwed? No. God will make sure that they have the means of salvation available to them, because even while He was forming the game-plan He knew that we would mess it up. But if I don’t give it my all for the “team”, it might make it less likely that everyone is involved in the victory. It might make it harder. I mean, isn’t it more probable for someone to be converted if they hear a full and logical message of the faith from multiple sources, rather than just from their grade school religion teacher? Wouldn’t it be better if they encountered Christ not just in the Eucharist (which is certainly enough of its own accord), but in me as well? It’s not a matter of whether the end goal will be achieved. It’s a matter of whether I’m going to play my part, and how many other teammates I can get on board as well. God will give us everything we need, and will make sure that the big picture goals are achieved; the question is, will we be a part of it?

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