Officially, and by officially I mean if you look through the catechism, if you look through Church documents, the Church doesn’t really talk much about a personal mission. It talks a lot about a vocation, but even there, “officially” the Church usually talks about vocation in terms of priestly vocation or the call to religious life. The lay life is too often left out. However, unofficially, and by unofficially I mean the writings of the saints and the spiritual writings of the Church, the Church does talk about mission all the time. In other words, the idea of a personal mission can be found in Church writings throughout history. Just like unofficially, the Church has always recognized marriage and family life as a vocation. So let’s get this straight right out of the gate. Everyone who is baptized has a vocation and everyone who has received the sacrament of Baptism and Confirmation has a mission.
The goal of this month’s Spiritual Project is to help you to know what these terms are and how to discern them.
Your Vocation: A School of Love
We’re not going to focus too much on vocation in this particular Spiritual Project. I want to focus much more on our mission, because we hear a lot less about that. But since your vocation and your mission are so closely related, we do need to touch on both. So let’s first explore what a vocation is. The term vocation comes from the Latin vocare, which means ‘a calling’, and the idea is that God is calling you to do something, usually understood as a calling to be a priest or religious because of the special roles that priests and religious play in the Church. But the idea of vocation actually goes much deeper than that. Your vocation is rooted in Jesus’ commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.”
This was the only new commandment that Jesus gave us. All of his other teachings were intended to lead us to the two Great Commandments that summed up the Old Testament law, love of God with all your mind, heart and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus’ new commandment takes us beyond the requirements of the two Great Commandments and calls us to a deeper, more complete, more selfless love. I mean, Jesus gave everything out of love for us. He held nothing back. And that’s the kind of love he calls us to have for each other. Now, to completely pour ourselves out for others like this requires two things. First of all, it requires grace. We are finite limited creatures. If we pour ourselves out completely for others, there’ll be nothing left of us. But through grace, Jesus calls us to love with his love.
And that’s where the theological virtue of charity comes in. The gift of charity is a gift of grace that we receive at baptism. It’s first the gift of being able to love God, but it’s also the grace of being able to love others with the inexhaustible love of God.
Second, being able to completely pour ourselves out for others takes practice. Even with grace, complete selflessness, complete selfless love does not come naturally to us. We need to overcome our fallen nature. We need to grow in charity by exercising it, and that’s where your vocation comes in. The Second Vatican Council taught that we are all called to holiness. This was not a new teaching. The Council was simply reminding us of a constant teaching of the Church that we tend to forget from time to time. Holiness is not just for the few specifically called saints. It’s not just for the ordained or the religious. It’s for all of us. It’s the call to be perfect even as your heavenly father is perfect.
The call to be holy is the call to love with the perfect love of God. I like to think of your vocation as your particular school of love. Your vocation is how God is calling you to learn how to love like Jesus, to train your heart in selflessness. If you’re called to the ordained life, you’re called to love your brother priests, and the flock of your parish, and to learn how to pour yourself out for the Church. If you’re called to the religious life, you’re called to learn how to live selflessly within your community, and to pour yourself out for the Kingdom of God in the world. If you’re called to marriage and family life, you’re called to learn how to pour yourself out for your spouse and your family, and then in service to the Kingdom of God in the world. You see a pattern here, right? The vocations are fundamentally the same even though each vocation plays a different role within the Church.Your vocation is your training ground in charity. Click To Tweet
To understand a vocation properly, we need to stop thinking of priests and religious as holy. Their calling is to become holy. Being ordained and taking vows does not automatically make them holy. In the same way, we need to stop thinking of marriage as a celebration of perfect love found. Those who are married are called to learn to love perfectly. Again, to become holy.Too often we celebrate vocations as an accomplishment. Rather, we should celebrate them as the beginning of our training in love. Click To Tweet
So that’s your vocation. So what is your mission?
Your Mission: Participating in the Life of Jesus
Well your mission is the way that the Holy Spirit equips you and calls you to serve the Kingdom of God in the world. So you’ve heard that in each of the vocations, the end result of our school of love, is to bring that love into the world and to serve the Kingdom of God. That particular part of your vocation makes up your mission.
But your mission isn’t only about loving your neighbor and serving the world, it’s also closely tied to your relationship with God. Because your mission is actually a participation in the mission of Jesus. And that means that while you participate in your mission, you are actually participating in the very life of Jesus, and therefore you’re participating in the divine life of the Holy Trinity. So the service that you do through grace is part of your intimacy with God every bit as much as your private prayer time is. And both are necessary.
So to understand your mission you need to understand Jesus’ mission. Just like Jesus’ entire life fulfills everything in the Old Testament, Jesus’ mission fulfills the three-fold mission of priest, prophet, and king that was originally given to the Hebrew people in the Old Testament. So the mission that the Holy Spirit gives to each of us, and the graces that he equips us with, most often fall under one of those three missions, priest, prophet or king. So let’s take a look at those three missions and see what each of them represents. And as we do that, try to see, this is kind of the first part of your discernment, try to see if one of these areas of Jesus’s mission resonates most strongly with you. So the first area of Jesus’s mission is the area of priest.
The Priestly Mission
The priestly mission is to participate in the goodness of God through prayer and sacrifice. So people who have this as their primary mission might be very strongly drawn to intercessory prayer for others, or to dedicate their lives to pray for the world. And of course we see this in religious orders that live a sequestered contemplative life, where they are living in their community isolated from the world as an act of self-sacrifice, and their lives are focused on prayer. But there are lay people who are called to this kind of a mission as well.
The Prophetic Mission
The next area of mission is the mission of the prophet. And the prophetic mission is to participate in the truth of God through preaching and teaching. So this is obviously my area and that’s why I am doing From the Abbey. This is the area of teaching.
But there are other people who have the prophetic mission, who might be really good preachers, and it doesn’t mean preaching the homily at Mass necessarily. It could just mean encouraging others with words. It could mean writing. There are a lot of great prophets out there who are teaching and preaching by writing books. It could also include evangelizing and just going out and sharing the faith with others.
It doesn’t have to be big and grand, and we’re going to see that with all of these areas of mission. Sometimes you have people like Dr. Scott Hahn, who has a very big following and is very popular, and you have people like me who . . . not so much. You might have other people whose mission is only to be a teacher to their family, or only to be a teacher to their local community. And their mission is no less important and no less a part of Jesus’ mission than Dr. Scott Hahn’s. Okay? So, that’s the prophetic mission.
The Kingly Mission
And the third area of mission is the kingly mission. And the kingly mission is to participate in the goodness and the power of God through service to others. This mission often takes two different forms, and you might have one or both of these. So the first area is service. Some people are called to serve the poor, and to do that in a very dedicated and powerful way that goes beyond the general Christian call to serve the poor. Others are called to service in their parish. They are always there, setting up chairs and cleaning the church, not because it’s their job, but because that’s how they express God’s love. That’s one area, the area of service.
And the other form the kingly mission can take is that of administration or leadership. So these will be people who feel strongly called to be leaders in the parish, or feel strongly called to organize events, and again, not because it’s their job, not because nobody else will do it, but because this is how they express their love for the Church. Obviously leadership and administration can be applied elsewhere too, not just in the parish. You might have somebody in a particular ministry, a particular apostolate, who is called to take care of all of the Ps and Qs – you know, take care of the administrative end of things. You might have somebody called to an apostolate who has the vision and the leadership. And then you have other people who are called to the apostolate who are very happy just doing the grunt work, so to speak,being the hands-on service people. All three of those are kingly missions. And again, not one of them is more important than the other, because all three represent how an individual is called to share in the love of Jesus.
Identifying Your Mission
So that’s the three fold mission, the three areas of mission. Now every Christian is commissioned to all three of these missions. That’s very clear in the baptismal right, where we’re anointed priest, prophet and king, and in the confirmation right, where the anointing is reinforced. We are all called to pray. We are all called to evangelize. We are all called to serve others. So as you’re discerning through these three areas of mission, don’t be thinking, “No, that’s not me.” We really need to be doing all three of these things and if you find that you’re not doing one of them, or you’re uncomfortable doing one of them, that might be a great area to start praying about, asking God to give you the grace to activate that area of your mission.
But it’s also true that we are often given a special share in one aspect of Jesus’ mission. So like I said, I felt very strongly called and equipped to participate in the prophetic mission by being a teacher. And that goes above and beyond my normal mission to just evangelize and share the faith with the people around me.
Now, as we try to understand this concept of mission, a really good model for us are religious orders. A mission of any religious order is called a charism of that order. This term indicates a special grace given to the order, usually through the founder of the order, and also indicates that this order has a special area of mission. So some religious orders have a charism for healing and they would found hospitals or work in hospitals. Some have a special charism for teaching, and they would found schools or work in schools. So the religious order then attracts people who share in that charism or who have a complimentary charism, and who are called to exercise that charism and that mission within the religious community.
The term charism comes from the term charismatic grace. A charismatic grace is grace that we receive from the Holy Spirit that empowers us to serve the Church. Most of the time grace is meant to empower our relationship with God. It’s meant to convert our own heart. Likewise, Charismatic grace strengthens our relationship with God by helping us to participate in the divine life. On the other hand, a charismatic grace is also oriented toward serving the Kingdom of God, the Church.
A religious order’s charism is how they exercise their charismatic grace as a community. But here’s the thing, religious orders aren’t the only ones who get charismatic graces. Charismatic graces are given to each of us in our Confirmation, and we’re all called to use them in service of the Kingdom of God whether or not we are called to religious order.
How we do that? That is our mission.
Now, when I teach about charisms and mission, many Catholics will tell me that they don’t think that they have a mission. And I think what happens is this; we tend to compare ourselves to what I’ll call “celebrities” in the Church – the people who have an obvious mission: Mother Teresa, Dr. Scott Hahn, Jeff Cavins. We compare ourselves to them, and we say, “Well, you know, I’m not out there attracting thousands or millions of people. I’m not out there making a public display of these gifts. So therefore I must not have a mission. They have the mission. They’re the special people.”
I’ve already touched on this a little bit, but I want to bring this out. What I want you to realize is this, there is a wide variety of missions within the body of Christ. Saint Paul says in First Corinthians chapter 12, some body parts are given more esteem than others, but all are necessary. The hand cannot say to the foot, “I don’t need you” (1Corinthians 12:15-16). In the body of Christ, some people such as those I mentioned, may be called to reach a large audience with their mission, but others may be called to missions that are much simpler and much smaller. But that doesn’t make one mission more important than the other in God’s plan. Every mission is important. Every mission is a participation in the work of Jesus, and every mission is a participation in the divine life of God.
So the question we want to ponder in this spiritual project is not, “Do I have a mission?” But how has God called me to uniquely serve the Kingdom of God? Our task in this spiritual project is discernment.
What Is Discernment?
So what is discernment? Discernment isn’t necessarily the same thing as decision.
We often talk about discerning a vocation to the priesthood and think that means deciding whether or not to become a priest. Obviously decision is part of that, but it’s not the fullness of it. Somebody who’s called to the priesthood, really in some ways should never stop discerning their call. Likewise, somebody who’s called to marriage life or the religious life should never stop discerning their vocation. That doesn’t mean that we don’t commit to our decision once it’s made. It means we are constantly discerning what our call means and how we are being led to fulfill it.
This month is really about reflection.
To discern really means to break something apart, and then to examine each part and then see how that helps us to understand the whole better.
Discernment is a process that begins before we make a decision, and continues after we make a decision. We continue discerning our mission to see if we’re on track toward meeting our goals, to see if we’re still following God’s will or if there’s something else that we should be doing.
So that also means that if you’re already pretty sure that you know what God has called you to, how he’s called you to serve as kingdom, discernment is still a fruitful activity for you. Reflection on your mission may give you new life and insight into how you are called to serve.
Reflections to Help you Discern Your Mission
To help you with your discernment, I have five areas for you to reflect on. Carefully reflecting on these five areas of your life can help you to discern what God has been doing in your life to prepare you for your mission and how he’s been drawing you to serve the Kingdom of God.
Your Heart: What Are You Passionate About?
So first, reflect on your heart. God created you with your unique mission in mind, and he’s been preparing your heart for it from your very conception. So ask yourself, what are you passionate about?
Anything that you’re passionate about could be an indication that points toward your mission, but especially if you find that you are passionate about one of those three dimensions of Jesus’s mission: priest, prophet or king, or that you’re passionate about some aspect of serving the Kingdom of God. That is a strong sign of your mission.
Now we do have to be careful here though. There are drawbacks to the old ‘follow your heart’ theme. Remember that our hearts, and therefore our passions are fallen. They are victims of original sin. And some of our passions, such as my passion for steak and coffee and chocolate, aren’t necessarily born out of my mission or my Holiness. They may just be born out of my wayward appetites. On the other hand, some religious orders do support themselves by selling chocolate or coffee, so you never know . . .
The point is that we are not just identifying our passions here, we’re praying about them, we’re analyzing them, we’re thinking about them. We’re looking for clues of the mission that God has laid on our hearts.
Your Natural Abilities: Created for Mission
The next area to reflect on is the area of your natural abilities. God gave each of us natural abilities. Even if you think you are the most untalented person in the universe, I guarantee you that you have certain abilities that other people don’t have. So what are you naturally good at? What comes easy for you that other people struggle with?
Again, don’t dismiss your abilities just because they aren’t the most obvious, or the most acknowledged strengths in our culture. I mean you may not be super strong or athletic or have a beautiful voice or be an amazing artist. Now, if you are, then great, you’ve just identified some of your natural abilities. But these are the bigger and more obvious ones that kind of catch people’s attention in our culture.
Maybe you are good at organizing things. Maybe you’re a good listener that people really open up to. Maybe you’re good at creative problem solving. You may never catch the attention of the culture or of a large group of people, but you have talents that serve others. God gave you your natural abilities, and one reason for those natural abilities is to help you serve your mission.
If you can identify what you are naturally good at, you can gain some clues to how God has equipped you to serve his kingdom. So spend some time this month thinking about your natural abilities. But do more than just think about them. Take inventory of them. Write them down. Pray that God will show you how he might be calling you to use them to serve others.
Your Spiritual Gifts: Partnering with the Holy Spirit
In addition to your natural gifts, God also gives you supernatural gifts, and that’s our next area for reflection. These God-given treasures come to us through the Holy Spirit in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.
The first area to look for your spiritual gifts are the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. In general, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are meant to help us to deepen our relationship with God. But sometimes the Holy Spirit gives us an extra dose, if you will, of one or two of the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we can use those gifts to serve the Church. For example, I seem to have the gifts of understanding and wisdom very, very strongly, and they serve me very well in my teaching mission as I’m able to share meaningful insights into the faith with others and help others to connect with the faith. So the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are a really good place to start in your discernment of your spiritual gifts.
But there are other spiritual gifts as well, and these are most often called the charismatic graces. Remember, a charismatic grace is a grace, or a gift given by the Holy Spirit that’s specifically intended to be used to serve the Kingdom of God. And Saint Paul talks about specific charisms or charismatic graces in 1 Corinthians 12, as we mentioned before, and in other letters as well.
These gifts include things like healing and prophecy and teaching and speaking in tongues and many, many others. In fact, there is no single list of charismatic graces like there is the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And again, charismatic graces come both big and flashy and plain and simple, and the point that Saint Paul makes is that no charismatic gift is any better than the rest, because they are all meant to serve the Church and to participate in Jesus’ divine life.
So how do you know that you have a spiritual gift, especially a charism? Well, the sure sign is that your sense of purpose and mission is met by results that go beyond your own abilities. So for example, I am moved to teach and very often I’ll have people come up to me and say, “Wow, this was very insightful.” And the thing that they’re saying was insightful, the thing that helped them the most, wasn’t something I was even aware that I said. It wasn’t something I’d planned in the lesson. The Holy Spirit teaches through me beyond my own natural abilities.
Spend some time this month thinking about how the Holy Spirit has equipped you with grace that is meant to serve the kingdom, and how the Holy Spirit has been working through you or could be working through you to do more than you could on your own as you actually cooperate and partner with God in the mission of Jesus.
Your Personality: Who Is God Creating You to Be?
The next area to reflect on as you discern your mission is your personality. Your mission isn’t just something that God is calling you to do. It’s part of who he is calling you to become. So ask yourself the question, who is God creating me to be? And take this question to prayer. Developmentally, large parts of your personality are already established, but as the Holy Spirit does its work of conversion within you, He is still molding your personality as well. And that means that you need to consider both who you are now as a person, and who you are becoming through grace.
Considering your personality while you discern your mission helps you to clarify a few things, and this is very important.
First, serving the Kingdom of God is all about serving your neighbor. So it helps to know how you most comfortably relate to others. Do you get energy by being surrounded by a lot of people or by being more intimate with a few people at a time? Are you good in front of a crowd or a classroom, or are you better one on one?
Knowing your personality can also help you to understand how you meet life’s challenges and choices, especially on an emotional level. Do you tend to respond emotionally first and then engage your mind, or do you gather all the facts before you even start making a decision?
As you spend some time thinking about and reflecting on your personality, I do have a resource to share with you. I highly recommend this book. It’s called The Temperament God Gave You. This book taps into the classic Catholic understanding of human personality without ignoring the more modern understandings of personality as expressed in inventories such as the Myers Briggs Personality Type Inventory, which you may have heard of. This is a great place to start understanding your personality.
Your Experiences: How Has God Been Leading You?
The final area of discernment is the area of your past experiences. God has been preparing you for your mission all your life, so by looking back at the past experiences that have a defining influence on your life, you can often see patterns that reveal the path that God has lead you down.
Some of these experiences may be powerfully positive experiences. Think of times when you’ve been drawn to service or leadership, or when you’ve been called on to assist others, and you felt really good about the contribution you made, even if that contribution was small.
Some of your defining experiences may be surprises. Think of times when the unexpected has happened, or when you thought that you were going in one direction and God took you a completely different direction.
Here’s an example of what one of these surprise experiences that happened to me.
I was on a college mission trip, and we were headed down to Georgia to work with Habitat for Humanity. On our way, we were hit by a snow storm near Nashville, Tennessee. This part of the country doesn’t get blizzards very often, so the snow not cleared off the highway, and a lot of cars were spinning out into the ditches. After being trapped on the highway for a number of hours, we were finally directed to a temporary shelter where we could spend the night. And this shelter was filled with people who were either homeless or who had lost their power or their heat because of the storm, and it included a large number of families with small children. So our group of college students opened up a very spontaneous daycare to help those families through the night. This was just an awesome experience and very, very unexpected. This was an experience that contributed to shaping me and directing me toward my mission.
Finally, your defining experiences may include negative experiences. Think of times of crisis or tragedy, when you are called to make difficult decisions or maybe even called to heroic action on parts of others. But also think of times when God shut the door on you. Think about times when you went a certain direction thinking that this is where you were meant to be, only to find a dead end – maybe a college degree you ended up not using. Think about times when you were challenged, and even if you failed and what you may have learned from that experience. What lessons did you gain from the any of these experiences? What strengths did you draw upon? What weaknesses did you discover in yourself? What did you learn about what you are not called to? What could you draw from those experiences that could help you to serve the Kingdom of God now?
Your Spiritual Project
Your Spiritual Project is to spend some time over the next 30 days discerning your mission. Reflect on
- Your heart and passions
- Your natural talents
- Your spiritual gifts
- Your personality
- Your experiences
Please visit https://my-inner-abbey.com for more resources related to this Spiritual Project, and share the fruit of your reflection in our chat on that site or on our Facebook page at https://facebook.com/fromtheabbey.
Also published on Medium.