Read for what it is worth the scripture of the binding of Isaac has got to be one of the scariest in the Bible. Beginning with the call to leave homeland, relatives and his father’s house and ending with the call to sacrifice his dearest son as a burnt offering Abraham endured ten tests of faith in realizing his vocation. The first trials are met with questions and evasions but this the last is met with silent trusting obedience. But why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice the son through whom God’s promise was predestined to be fulfilled? This is a riddle that shakes us to the core.
If God deals that way with Abraham, will God deal that way with me? What if I am asked to sacrifice what is most dear to me? There is no logical way to solve this riddle. What we need to do when we feel that we can’t bear what we called to is to practise the silence and trust of Abraham.
Don’t focus on the sacrifice. Focus on God. This story is meant to teach us that we must focus on God and put into practice the obedience of faith trusting that God is greater than our idea of God and that sometimes our fears, anger and shame are what need binding and burning up.
The following is an invitation to embody this scene in a practical way: Enter into prayer and consider what you most dread that God will call you to. In silence and in as much stillness as you can try to explore the feeling. Not with your mind but to try to feel it physically and emotionally. It will not be a pleasant feeling. Feel it anyway. You will want to get away from the feeling. Stay put and lean into the feeling you dread. As you sit the feeling will burn you, let it. Don’t run away. Let your stillness be your altar. Your discomfort is the Ram of distortion being burnt up. You are becoming the promise. Keep this practice up and you will grow in freedom and peace and you will be a blessing to the Nations.
Anchors are to keep boats from moving. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of an anchor of the soul. Instead of an anchor that goes down and stops us from moving the anchor of hope goes up and keeps us moving heavenward. In discernment we need freedom and we need stability. Sometimes we stop moving though because we are thinking and worrying too much. Doubt can become an anchor that keeps us from moving toward our true calling.
True Christian hope means that our deepest desires for fulfillment will only be satisfied in God. Most hoping in this world, however, is based on the fear that our desires will not be satisfied. Christian hope is “sure as it is firm, reaching right through and beyond the veil where Jesus has entered…” Hb 6: 19. In discernment of a vocation we stand on the earthly side of the veil but we are being pulled through it by life. In fact there are many veils that we pass through before the final one. What keeps us moving heavenward is letting hope grow in us. This means giving it space and belief. St. John of the Cross said the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity are like a trinity and when one grows stronger so do the others. The way that we strengthen these virtues is by practicing them.
So in discernment to move forward we need to be making acts of faith and charity that correspond to our hopes. As we do this that sure and firm hope grows in us and speaks to us with an intelligence that our own heart will understand. Discernment then leads to choice and commitment and we are one step closer to our fulfilling our hearts deepest desires.
Anchors are to keep boats from moving. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of an anchor of the soul. Instead of an anchor that goes down and stops us from moving the anchor of hope goes up and keeps us moving heavenward.
What keeps us moving heavenward is letting hope grow in us. This means giving it space and belief. St. John of the Cross said the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity are like a trinity and when one grows stronger so do the others. The way that we strengthen these virtues is by practicing them. So in discernment to move forward we need to be making acts of faith and charity that correspond to our hopes. As we do this that sure and firm hope grows in us and speaks to us with an intelligence that our own heart will understand. Discernment then leads to choice and commitment and we are one step closer to our fulfilling our hearts deepest desires.
The book of Exodus is one of the most dramatic narratives of vocation in the whole bible. Slavery, freedom, Pharaoh, wilderness and God are the backdrop. Moses is the intermediary between pharaoh and God, between the slaves and the elders of Israel. Moses stands between wilderness and promised land. All the pressure in the story forces the issue of worship. Again and again Pharaoh refuses to let the people take leave of their work in order to go worship The Lord in the wilderness. Again and again Moses insists that The Lord requires them to go a three days journey into the wilderness to worship. Does this sound like your life?
We are all doing something but we aren’t always doing the right thing. Our world conspires to have us constantly busy: working, studying, socializing, thinking, worrying and computing. What is it that keeps us doing what we are doing to the point that we suffer and feel like slaves? Jealousy, pride or deceit? Fear, gluttony or anxiety? Resentment, lust or laziness?
Well even if we can’t name why we are slaves the path to freedom is clear: Worship. Worship in the complete sense means that we put our trust in God and shape our life so that God radiates in us and through us. This trust is acted out in the way that we devote offerings of self to God through prayer. Trust in God allows us to share more of ourselves to other people because of the growth of love within us. The most powerful freedoms come when our trust allows us to simply be loved by God in our imperfection. When faced with certain death by the soldiers of Pharaoh who pursue the slaves after their escape they are told: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” Ex 14:14 Perhaps this is the core of worship: being able to be still and truly trust that whatever mess your life is in that God promises to accompany you into something better.
Vocation is addressed to trust and grows through trust. Worship strengthens trust and is an expression of trust. Moses’ trust allowed God to form a community of trust that grew through worship, wilderness and journey. Why not make a three day journey into the wilderness and give some time to God and let freedom lead you into service.
In 2005 I was seriously thinking about the priesthood. I was a youth minister at Bl. Pope John XXIII Parish in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia (now known as the home of Sidney Crosby). I had been journeying with Fr. Gilbert Bertrand OMI in spiritual direction. On my birthday that year I received a card from Fr. Gilbert. It had a picture of a young St. Eugene on it with the caption, “St. Eugene Wants You!” I had to laugh at the card because I was indeed thinking about the Oblates but I really didn’t want to say yes to missionary life yet.
My hesitations about missionary life were that it would take me away from my family, my home town, and my friends. That is why I decided to study with the Archdiocese of Halifax first. How could I leave my family? How could I say yes to a vocation that might send me half-way across the world?
Finally, I had to resign to the words of Jesus “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundred fold now in this age – houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children and fields, with persecutions…” Mark 10:29-30. Wow! Boy has this scripture been right!
I have been all over Canada, the United States and now I’m in Kenya meeting Oblates, being in parishes and communities. I have acquired more than I could have ever expected…and I’m just starting my journey. I even have started becoming friends on facebook with Oblates I’ve never met but because we are in the same religious community we still have so much to share.
All the fear and anxiety that I faced in making the decision to join the Oblates has been replaced by the promises held in that scripture from the Gospel of Mark.
So what are you waiting for?
I met a young man several years ago that moved about from community to community discerning a vocation to religious life. Finally he said he wanted to start his own community named “Our Lady of Perpetual Discernment.” It was a funny way of saying he knew that he had thought enough about it but he couldn’t settle on what he wanted. But you never know a vocation unless you try it on, unless you start living it. It will do you no favours if you never try and see if it’s for you.
My life with the Oblates has blessed me in the most amazing ways, but I can’t expect you to take my word for it. Try it on and see if it fits.
Br. David MacPhee OMI