By Will Deatherage, Executive Director
I had just finished another batch of job applications, boosting my total to nineteen. As a senior heading into the greatest economy in United States history, I was confident I would graduate with a stellar offer. It was a bittersweet time, as I said goodbye to academic theology and mentally prepared myself for a standard 9-5 desk occupation. Every job I applied for, except for two, was in line with my expected career path of digital content production. The outliers were a high-paying software management position that had nothing to do with my degrees and a highly competitive graduate fellowship I would surely not be accepted into. Of all the career paths before me, the latter two were by far the least probable outcomes. Mother Nature must be quite the gambler, though, since my career began in the most unexpected way possible.
The COVID-19 pandemic put me on hold for all seventeen digital content positions. Approaching graduation with zero prospects, I spent the end of my senior year in great distress and anxiety. But my devastation was quickly dashed away by the *ping* of an e-mail. I received an offer from the software company! It came with an impressive salary, frequent travel across the country, benefits, housing stipends, and a campus that looked like Disneyland. While this company had nothing to do with my personal ambitions, the thought of financial security in a recession greatly excited me. My parents, girlfriend, and friends were thrilled. However, two days later, this excitement dissipated with another *ping*. I had been accepted into the graduate fellowship as well.
I was at a very scary crossroad, one path paved with gold and the other with the footsteps of saints and theologians. One offered me financial security in our economy’s most frightening time, the other offered me something I claimed to cherish above all else. My common sense said one thing and my gut said another. The fact I was even considering the latter option was shocking to several close friends of mine. But since when did I put money before God? Did I not trust that God would provide for me if I chose the path of my heart? Money could be earned anytime, but the opportunity to throw myself into studying Him seemed providential. This was God’s call. So, I took a leap of faith and accepted the graduate fellowship.
I have never been happier in my life. Graduate school led me to opportunities I never dreamed of before, including the research assistantship of my dreams at my favorite political institution. Today, I am studying politics and theology with the most brilliant minds in their respective fields. These opportunities, in turn, have granted me an abundance of financial stability. Every day, I wake up enthusiastic about work, if these activities I enjoy so much could even be called work. Last spring, I was so nervous and confused about my destiny. I never thought I could be so happy, nor could I have ever predicted these outcomes, but God knew them from day one.
R. (8a and 9a) Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.Ps 40:2, 4
I have waited, waited for the LORD,
and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.
And he put a new song into my mouth,
a hymn to our God.
Our culture encourages us to define ourselves. It conditions us to place self-care and gratification at the forefront of our decision-making, which is understandable. However, what happens when we do not know what is best for ourselves? What if we do not know what self-care is, what we should desire, or who we really are? As children, our parents have far greater understandings of our needs and identities, and while adulthood brings forth great liberty, we are still fallible, dependent creatures. Stress, anxiety, addiction, and even over-ambition can often obscure our true strengths, desires, needs, and even self-knowledge. No one really knows themselves or where they are going because fate’s hand is not ours, it is God’s. Only He knows what is best for us, even if it means radical change in our careers, lifestyles, and even identities.
John was standing with two of his disciples,Jn 1:35-42
and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God.”
The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.
Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them,
“What are you looking for?”
They said to him, “Rabbi” — which translated means Teacher —,
“where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw where Jesus was staying,
and they stayed with him that day.
It was about four in the afternoon.
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter,
was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus.
He first found his own brother Simon and told him,
“We have found the Messiah” — which is translated Christ —.
Then he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said,
“You are Simon the son of John;
you will be called Cephas” — which is translated Peter.
Consider the fishermen, who were likely financially, socially, and psychologically stable family men. They probably planned on fishing for the rest of their lives. Upon meeting Christ for the very first time, shaking fate’s hand, itself, they immediately left their livelihoods and assumed new professions and identities. This scenario should already be shocking to audiences today. What if I, a recent college graduate with several job offers, abandoned my family and friends to follow some mysterious stranger who offered me no financial stability or prospects to a foreign land? In Christ’s time, such a decision was even more radical. In a strict class system with little career flexibility, abandoning one’s lifelong trade meant walking away from the only profession they ever knew. Then consider how most people hardly traveled outside their towns. Family and friends were the only emotional, psychological, and social support systems people had, yet these fishermen still left their careers, families, and plans to follow a stranger whom they hardly knew. Giving them new jobs, families, and names, Christ literally redefined His disciples.
Like the Apostles, we too are called to invite God to redefine our lives by being attentive to those moments when He calls to us as Christ did to the Apostles. We must never become so entrenched in our plans that we stop being open to Christ changing our paths. However, such an openness does not imply passivity.
At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD,1 Sm 3:3b-10, 19
because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.
The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time.
Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am. You called me.”
Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth.
So he said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply,
Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”
When Samuel went to sleep in his place,
the LORD came and revealed his presence,
calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect.
To some readers, Samuel’s patience might come across as passive, as if he was simply waiting for God to tell him what to do. This is far from the case. Samuel remained vigilant and ready, and when he heard the Lord’s voice, he immediately sprang into action. He could have slept, ignored Him, or refused to answer Him out of fear, but he did not. Because of his response to God, he was granted a pivotal role in salvation history.
An excellent foil to Samuel’s calling is the fool waiting for God to save Him from the flood. Sirens blare that a hurricane is coming, but the fool sits in his house and waits for God to save him. His neighbors drive by, begging him to flee with them; he refuses, claiming God will save him. As his house fills with water, a boat rows by offering him an escape. Again, he refuses. Finally, as he prays on the roof, a helicopter flies by, and he ignores it. The fool, of course, drowns. As he awaits his judgment, he asks God why He never saved him. God replies that He tried saving him several times, working through the sirens, neighbors, boats, and helicopters. The fool simply refused to see God working through them; he refused God’s call.
I meet far too many young Catholics whose houses are flooding. Hollywood conditions us to expect God to appear in a beaming light, with a booming voice. This rarely happens. Notice how God the Father and Jesus Christ did not appear to Samuel and the Apostles with armies of angels and the glories of heaven but by simply calling out to them in human words. God does not work through miracles with Hollywood effects. He works through the mundane moments of our lives. There is no separation between spiritual and temporal affairs. Everything around us is God at work, we simply do not always notice or respond to His call.
Remember how Christ’s Apostles were once packed in a boat, rocked by the stormy seas. The disciples likely expected a delightful fishing trip, but God had other plans. As they cowered in fear and begged for their Maker, they neglected that in the midst of much turmoil, chaos, and confusion, God had a plan, as Christ calmed the waters and revealed His glory to them. Just as He did to the disciples, God often sends us rough waters, sometimes by disrupting our careers and lifestyles or by giving us life-changing opportunities that force us to re-evaluate our plans. It is comforting to know that God intends such anxiety because He always plans to bring good into our lives from it. We just have to respond by diving into the turbulent waters with Him. Only then will we embrace God’s plan.