Peter Randall SJ
I remember my father telling me he had a vocation from the age of 8 years old. When I was about that age, he asked me what I might do in the future. I fancied one of those vocation things too, but when he gave me a long verbal list as we waited to collect my sisters from school, none of them seemed to fit. So the scene was set for a lifelong enquiry. If a vocation is some kind of thing, how do I identify it? When will God choose? How will I know when he’s choosing? What choices do I have?
St Beuno’s advertised its retreats in the early 80s with reference to “sifting experience”. It seemed pretty rigorous, and people told me the Jesuits were good at rigour. I knew them from a distance, at St Aloysius Church, Glasgow. At that time I was training to be a psychiatric nurse. The retreat I made at St Beuno’s coincided with the death of one of my sisters, and that too played its part in trying to hear what God might be saying to me. Ignatius’ guidelines on life choices, consolation/desolation , spiritual conversation, Two Standards, Three Types of Person etc., all produced useful clues.
My early 20s were dominated by the vocation trail, including a couple of years with the Mill Hill Missionaries. Later, in 1988 I entered the Jesuit noviceship. The years of missionary formation, and a post noviceship two year placement in Thailand with the Jesuit Refugee Service helped me to widen the cultural and religious context for these inner and outer explorations. Later, training as a family therapist helped more than any other to bring together all the different kinds of conversation and sifting processes I had encountered.
I have found the following mix of metaphors, key words, and criteria for choosing a course of action, as helpful in making sense of God’s call.
Seeking God’s greater glory helps us to reach out to God and to others.
Fortitude is a very useful word to describe a gift of the Holy Spirit, because it implies both endurance and courage. Napoleon put endurance first when assessing his men. Several years in parish ministry have brought me to agree with him. However, endurance without courage could lead to stagnation. Courage is needed to take risks and bring about change.
Sailing boats provide teasing metaphors. For me, the wind and tides are the changing circumstances of life, and that involves the needs of others, a prominent criteria in Ignatius’ choice of direction. The hand on the tiller and the manipulation of sails represent my agency in the situation. In the vowed life of a religious, the needs of others and changing circumstances inevitably form part of the dynamics of obedience.
Ultimately we’re all in the same boat. God calls us. I’m on the high seas with the Jesuits, and the parishes that I’ve served in since ordination have been vessels rich in the us experience. Whatever kind of vocation thing I do or do not have, the few thoughts above are helpful to me in setting a course.