Some years ago, I became aware of the call to return to college for a Masters degree in Religious Education. At first it was a nudge, then a pressing thought, until it had soon become a burning desire which I could no longer ignore. An Ivy League grad and mother of three, I had spent the last 12 years as a teacher both to my own children and as a catechist to many of the children in my community. During this time, I had responded to numerous other ministerial calls to step out in faith and serve the needs of others. With each new “yes” I uttered, there was both a new demand upon my time and a need to balance schedules and self.
“Why do this?” I was asked. “Why do you feel the need to invest so much time and energy on undertakings that not only others can do, but for which there is no financial incentive?”
While it is true that no one can answer the call to every task or mission, deep within I recognized that I could not look to someone else to fill a void that God might be asking me to fill. Perhaps there is an emerging inner awareness that you, specifically, are being invited to offer your gifts, however meager they seem to be. Or you have seen and felt a profound need and are being pulled deep within to respond. Yet, what, if anything, are you to do next?
St. Ignatius speaks very clearly to this time when we might be feeling fear or anxiety in accepting a challenge, or wishing to more fully cultivate an active spiritual life. Here, we might sense either that we are growing closer to God and experiencing joyful consolations or that our concerns and fears have left us in a state of sadness and desolation. Take time to examine where these feelings arise from, and if they are indeed from God or a result of other forces seeking to dissuade you from continuing. The tools of Ignatian discernment can help here.
One of the most powerful tools in your spiritual tool belt is prayer. Prayer is the key to discernment. It truly connects a desire to serve, the commitment itself, and gaining renewed purpose and strength. Remember these two things: 1. You were never meant to do this on your own, and 2. God has not left you alone. He has and will continue to send others to help while strengthening and enabling you for the task at hand. Therefore, it is essential that in any service or ministry you embark upon that you take this indispensable time for the care and replenishing of your soul by dialoging with God.
In returning to that initial question of, “Why do this?” the answer becomes abundantly clear once you have begun a journey of service. While not always quantifiable or easily expressed, it is an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the gift of being present to the unforeseen moments of grace.
For Ignatian spirituality, action is an essential component to our formation and transformation and is congruent with a contemplative life. It is responding to God’s love by the offering of ourselves, and to God’s graced gift of our talents to be used in service to others. It is a commitment to take a step forward in faith, and to set an awareness and attentiveness to God to transform the world around us. This is what it means to be a “contemplative in action,” a prayerful follower of Christ actively engaged in working in the world.
As a recent graduate and recipient of a Jesuit education, I respond to God’s calling with loyalty and service. It compels me to be open and receptive to change and ready to move with the Spirit as it wills. This journey of discernment, though continuous, isn’t arduous, but a joyful journey into what God has prepared for me. Its reward, far greater than anything I can conceive of, is one that I would not trade and will gratefully spend a lifetime pursuing.