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Lent is for Discerners

Lent 2018 – Lent is for Discerners

Young men and women often ask God for a sign to tell them if they are “called” to be the religious life or priesthood. It’s a natural desire to know we are doing God’s will and we all want the same certainty of the early apostles. Although Jesus is not with us in the same way as He was with Saints Peter, James or John, He did leave us a path to find our way. The sign we seek is in the very place He found His call, in the desert. And it is in this season of Lent, all of us who seek God’s will, are called to follow Jesus into the desert.

Why the desert? The desert reminds us to remove ourselves from the busyness of our lives and focus on one thing, God’s will. We can only get to the desert by making an effort to unplug from social media and noise, as well as scale back one’s activities/outings to your core responsibilities. This is why religious communities start their relationship with discerners on a Retreat weekend. We must quiet our minds if we hope to hear an answer. It is no surprise that the majority of entrants into religious life/priesthood are introverts, as they are more connected with their interior life. This is not to say extroverts aren’t called, it is just to say they have something valuable to learn from our introvert brothers and sisters.

Once in our Lenten desert, once we have quieted down, it is time to start the journey inward. So many people look outside themselves for the answer or sign when God has put it inside our hearts. This is the time to face ourselves without filters- to look at our gifts, our passions, our faults, and our inner desires in honesty and humility. Discerning always teaches us who we really are.

From there, we are ready, with Jesus, to face the temptations that will come to us once we say “yes.” The first temptation was the temptation of appetite. In Jesus’ case the temptation was food since He was fasting, but it could be any physical hunger: eating fine food, drinking, relationships, or affection/physical intimacy. Can I let go of the things that split my heart from serving the poor?

The second temptation, where Satan tempts Jesus to throw Himself down from the Temple, is not one any of us will face but many experience something similar. This temptation is more about how we test God in the process of finding our call. This temptation could the asking for a physical sign or it could be telling ourselves that we can put off a decision for months or years because if this is a call from God, He will wait for us. God, at times, will wait for us, as did the father of the prodigal son, but He also tells us in the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 9: 57-62) that those who make excuses or delays to His invitation will lose it.

The final temptation Jesus faces, and so must we, is the temptation for greatness. In discernment, this can look like someone who continues to wait for a better offer or one who chooses this life for all the riches, respect, or power it will bring. Certainly religious life and priesthood bring certain gifts (lifetime security, privileges, and the esteem of others) but these can never be the reason for our choice. Once one realizes this life will bring its share of suffering, at the very least compassion fatigue for all those who suffer around us, this temptation calls us to purify our intentions and motivations in serving God. We are never called to this life for what it can bring us, we are called to this life for what we can give to others and through them, God.

The desert isn’t our final destination, even if we get used to it. Just as we were called to enter the desert, we will be called to leave the desert when we, with Jesus, look at the real needs of the world, and respond to which ones urge us on. May the love of Christ impel you to go deep into your desert, wrestle with the temptations, and answer the call God has put in your heart.

Father Ray Smith, CMF, with discerners

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