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Monday, 16 March 2015 13:55

Discerning the call to consecrated life: the signs (Part 2)

Sr Margaret Ghosn mshfIn this year dedicated by Pope Francis to Consecrated Life, what are the signs to look for when young people discern the call to consecrated life? Maronite Sister Margaret Ghosn writes about vocation discernment in the second part of her piece for CRA's Reflection Series on the Year of Consecrated Life.

In this year dedicated by Pope Francis to Consecrated Life, what are the signs to look for when young people discern the call to consecrated life? One of the tools that can be used to assist in the process are the Scriptures, which tell of a people coming to faith and their relationship with the One God. In reading through the Scriptures we come to understand more of who God is and what is expected of us in the journey of discernment. So let us look at the signs from Scripture.

1. We are called to be in God’s image

This awareness that we are God’s and belong to God, is a foundational teaching of the Scriptures. In this knowledge we sense our purpose. Therefore an invitation to enter consecrated life is not an escape but a journey into fullness, a desire to do more and become more, through God.

In Gen 1:27 we read, ‘So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.’

2. God is at the centre of our lives

After creating, God remains among creation. God acknowledges the goodness of creation and delights in our presence. The first man and woman attempted to live without God, only to find that such life leads to bitterness. Only when God is the centre of our lives, can we fully enjoy and embrace our calling in life.

In Gen 3:8 we read, ‘They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.’

3. It is God who calls us and we are impelled to respond

From Genesis and the beginning of creation, we move into the era of the Judges. The boy Samuel heard God’s persistent call would not go away until it was answered. That is why any real discernment needs time. If the call within us is from God, it grows in intensity, that one is left with no choice but to respond.

In 1 Sam 3:10 we read, ‘Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel! And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.’”

4. To desire, seek and trust God no matter the events in life

As we journey through Scripture we arrive at the period of the Kings. During this time, the Prophet Elijah experienced great hardships, yet he was willing to endure all, as nothing was of more importance than faith in God. One discerning a consecrated life should be ready for any circumstances and yet find peace of mind in God, who is their only desire.

In 1 Kgs 19:12-14 we read, ‘and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’

5. The decision to be a consecrated person is not easy

As we see with the Prophet Elijah, the decision to commit one’s entire life to God has its difficulties. As we move deeper into the Bible story, we come across the prophetic books. The Prophets of the Scriptures were often reluctant as they knew they would face criticism, mockery and possibility of death. Like the prophets Jonah and Jeremiah, we are not always sure or confident of what we are capable of, but we accept God’s call, no matter our fears.

In Jer 1:4-6 we read, ‘Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’

6. There is a deep joy and inner peace in saying 'yes'

Having moved through the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), we arrive at the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) and turn our focus to the Gospels. One person who responded to the call, was Mary. Yet saying yes is not immediate. Questions need to be asked and responses given, that need to offer an assurance of peace. The final decision is made when one can put all their trust in God’s care and abandon themselves totally to what will be, despite not fully knowing what the future holds. Mary accepted the call and her yes is followed by a song of praise.

We read in Lk 1:38, ‘Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.’

7. God is the source of Truth

Moving through the Gospels we find a great deal to reflect over in the life of Jesus. Nothing else is as important to the person discerning, than the truth Jesus offers and one senses deep down that nothing else matters. If our priorities are in alignment with Jesus’ priorities, then we will pursue love of God, care for others, a passion for justice, and a desire to forgive. Discernment to consecrated life is the call to

‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt 5:48).
In Jn 14:6 we read, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’

8. Prayer is necessary in discernment

Consecrated life is not an escape but a decision to enter more fully into the life of God in us. This is achieved through a desire for intimate union with God through prayer. One who is discerning consecrated life should enjoy one’s own company and regular periods of quiet time with God.

In Mk 1:35 we read, ‘In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.’

9. Mission and service are criteria for the consecrated life

On June 6, 2014, Pope Francis said in a speech at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, ‘Please, no careerism!’ All types of ministry, the pope said, calls for ‘vigilance in order to be free from ambition or personal aims, which can cause so much harm to the church.’ Priests must make their priority the ‘cause of the Gospel and the fulfilment of the mission’ entrusted to them. It follows that one discerning should possess empathy towards the less fortunate, a desire to serve, sensitivity and ability to be with the poor. If these are lacking, then consecrated life is only a means to a career and we have no real purpose in being there.

In Mt 25:34-35 we read, ‘Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’

10. Love is the final and most important sign that you are called

The Great Commandment of the Scriptures is found in Deut 6:5, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.’ This is accompanied by the second great commandment in Lev 19:18, ‘You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.’ If our body, mind and soul are not God’s, then our lives won’t be given for others. Jesus emphasised this point, giving us a new commandment.

In Jn 13:34-35 we read, ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

Conclusion

The rest of the Scriptures describe great people in the service of God and Paul is one such figure. Paul consecrated his life to God, expressing this commitment through words and actions, establishing church communities, offering pastoral care, and offering deep theological thought. He was so enamoured by God that he was able to proclaim in Gal 2:20, ‘It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.’ Discernment to consecrated life therefore challenges us with the ultimate question, ‘Are we so in love with God and life, that we desire only God to live in our body, mind and soul?’

Dr Margaret Ghosn is a Maronite Sister of the Holy Family. She is currently Principal at the Maronite College of the Holy Family. She holds an Honorary Fellowship with ACU and is a sessional lecturer for UTC and BBI.