The Challenge

The Challenge

Saturday of the 5th Week of Easter

Acts 16:1-10; John 15:18-21

Over the span of about 15 years, I was asked three times if I ever thought about being a deacon. The first time was my pastor. I asked what a deacon was and, after he told me, I said, “No, thanks.” A decade later, a second priest asked me. I looked into it, but it didn’t seem like a good fit. When a third priest asked a few years later, it began to dawn on me: I’ve looked for ways to serve the Church for years; none have worked out. But I’ve had three priests, years apart, totally unknown to each other, ask me this question. Is this what God wants me to do? I still hesitated. I wasn’t sure.

Then I heard a priest talking about vocations. He said, “If you think Christ might be calling you to ministry, you owe it to yourself to try, because if he is not calling you, he will make it clear to you.” That was it. It was as if God was saying to me, “You’ve tried other things; they haven’t worked. I’ve asked you three times. You owe it to yourself to try.” So I tried, and it changed my life.

This is not so different from St. Paul’s experience. He didn’t know where God wanted him to go, but he knew he had to try. He chose a direction, went out, and sure enough, if that wasn’t right, God made it clear. Doing this changed his life and the lives of millions. As we heard, today’s reading ended with Paul being led into Europe. Imagine what might have happened (or not happened) had St. Paul never preached the gospel there!

Of course, this isn’t limited to St. Paul. Jesus is calling us, too; as he said in the gospel, I have chosen you out of the world. Notice, he doesn’t say what we’re chosen to do. That depends on us; we have to make choices, to try different things. While some people may know exactly what God has called them to, my guess is that most do not. If you’re one of them, then you’re in good company; neither did St. Paul. But he didn’t sit around waiting to find out. He went out and tried. That’s what we must do.

But how do we know if we’re doing what God wants us to do? One way St. Paul knew was by looking at the fruit of his labor. As St. Luke tells us, day after day the churches grew stronger in faith and increased in number (Acts 16:8). It is a great blessing to see a change for the better in peoples’ lives as a result of our efforts. But that’s not the only way. We should look for a positive change in our own spiritual life; is what we’re doing drawing us closer to Christ? Another way is the sense of accomplishment we get from trying to make a difference. Nothing feels better than knowing that, whatever the outcome, we have gotten up and done something; we’ve made a real effort.

Of course, things don’t always work out in our favor. If none of these things are happening, then it is certainly possible that God wants us to try something else. It’s easy to get a little down and see our effort as a mistake, but that would be wrong. The mistake isn’t trying and failing, it is never trying. God is always pleased with the effort of a sincere and humble heart. As St. Teresa of Calcutta so wisely said, “I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness.”

What’s more, what is not right for us at one time may be exactly right at another. When I was first asked about the diaconate, I wasn’t the man I was to become. The experiences of life needed to shape me. As God showed me in the fullness of time, I was called to the diaconate; I just wasn’t called then, the time wasn’t right. So it is for each of us. God gives us time that we may come to learn about ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, our potential and our limitations. If we are wise and continue to try and improve ourselves in God’s eyes, we will find ourselves ready for roles of service to the gospel that we never would have thought possible before.

In the gospel, Jesus contrasts us to the world he has called us out of. He doesn’t do this to separate us from the world; to the contrary, he loves the world and wants us to engage it more effectively. As St. Paul and his companions have shown us, we cannot do that unless we are willing to do it in God’s way, in God’s time, and with God’s guidance. As Jesus said in the gospel, they do not know the one who sent me (John 15:21). The challenge for each of us is, “How can I try to show the world the One who sent me?”

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