A vocations test on having a goal in the spiritual life. Goals are for the dogs.


Seen yesterday during a Communion Call.

Can we be encouraged to try to do better? Sure. The resulting goal that we set for ourselves can issue from a reckoning about what our dogs think about us and what the reality actually is. Fine. But…

Don’t have any goals in the spiritual life. Sure, there are things like keeping the commandments with a firm purpose of amendment, of frequenting the sacraments, of following the precepts of the Church, etc.

But that’s our ecclesial life, so to speak, intimately tied, it is true, to our spiritual lives, but there is a distinction to be made. Our Lord plucks us up out of the quagmire of this world, up to cross, where He is, where He said He would draw when He is lifted up there. We might think that we can climb up on the cross ourselves and don’t need or are afraid of His help to get there. We know that the goal there is set by Jesus, not ourselves, namely, that we participate in the charity of God in drawing all to the Heart of our Savior.

But that is something we cannot bring ourselves into living. It is beyond us. We have no idea what it means to intercede for all the members of the Body of Christ who are being drawn by Jesus to Himself on the Cross. This outrageous charity is not the way we would go about things. If we set anything to do with that as a goal for ourselves at which to arrive through our own machinations of doing this and that, we will only arrive at what we imagined with our own brains. It’s not about us. It’s about Jesus. We are not our own saviors. He the One, the only One. He saves us because we cannot do this ourselves.

The fad in the formation of seminarians for all these years of darkness was to equate psychology and the spiritual life, making the seminarians into perfect human beings who then don’t need any grace of redemption or salvation. And then the house of cards falls. The most oft cited book on vocations here in these USA is all about God calling perfect human beings, or human beings who are well under way to becoming perfect human beings who don’t have any weakness consequent to original sin. This has a certain insanity about it.

laudie-dog 2

I wouldn’t want anyone in a seminary who thought he didn’t need Jesus because he was already the perfect human being (what arrogance!). Neither would I want someone around who despaired of depending on Jesus. I would want someone available to formation, that is, someone who was willing to be at ease with the fact of the cross we are commanded to carry, which includes all weakness consequent to original sin. Know yourself! Yes. To a point. But we don’t really know whence Jesus had to save us until He lifts us out of the quagmire.

Jesus doesn’t make us of ourselves stronger, more whole, perfect. No. He brings us into His strength, His truth, His love, His goodness and kindness, before which standard we can understand a bit more what He’s done for us, leaving us in humble thanksgiving. In heaven there will be no more weakness, but here, in justice, as consequences of sin freely chosen with the sin, yes.

Having a goal of humble thanksgiving? No. We don’t know what it is. But assent to it as our Lord brings you into being humble, into thanksgiving, into His truth and goodness and kindness.

“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect!” commands Jesus. Yes. But not of ourselves, but because we are made to be members of the Mystical Body of Christ. Jesus is perfect. He’s the Son of His Father. He’s the Divine Son of the Immaculate Conception. It’s all about JESUS!


Filed under Spiritual life, Vocations

15 responses to “A vocations test on having a goal in the spiritual life. Goals are for the dogs.

  1. elizdelphi

    I hear you, but St John of the Cross says the goal is union with God in love and I’m sticking with that, with the caveat that the “goal” belongs to God moreso than me; after all He can see me and I can “see” Him only in the darkness of faith. So it would seem to be mainly His goal that I assent to and participate in. But in re-reading what you said, basically you said the same thing.

    I actually particularly appreciate the acknowledgment that what is sought in vocation candidates (not just priests) is perfect people. I think that if there were priests who seemed less humanly perfect (though still HOLY) they would seem more accessible to some of us sometimes. I really do get it why they want candidates with excellent human qualities and mental health. But was it really always so universally like that? Didn’t St Bernard have a reputation for being able to take in whatever ruffians and make monks out of them? That was in the days when the strong medicine of asceticism wasn’t rejected out of hand. I have a great belief in the mental health value of growth in virtue and holiness, in that the wrinkles of our neuroses get more smoothed out. I had a Carmelite spiritual director at one time and I said to him that I saw God as the healer, the only one ultimately who could heal me in my human ills, and he cautioned me about it and basically pointed me toward loving God for who He is in Himself rather than what He can do for healing me and to realize that He may will me to remain humanly so imperfect. God probably doesn’t will to make me fit for the religious life for instance.

    Only obliquely related, I have a letter to the editor in my diocesan newspaper this week.

    To the Editor,

    Have you ever noticed that among thousands of women saints who are virgins, and several great men saints who repented of fornication, there are no unambiguously historical canonized women saints who were neither virgins nor married, except, traditionally, Mary Magdalene? One might confusedly wonder if Jesus is above all for virgins, not sinners, and if such women should pin their hopes on Purgatory.

    Saint Therese of LIsieux was adamant that God’s fatherly love rushes first of all to aid the weakest and the greatest sinners, and it is they who have the greatest reason for confidence. Because she believed Jesus is for sinners, she wanted to think of herself as essentially extremely weak whom God had “forgiven in advance” of great sins she more than likely would otherwise have committed. She said no one should aim for Purgatory since the crucified Savior shares with us His infinite merits and wills that we be purified in this life to go straight to Heaven.

    Repentant women (and men) can be a light to reveal the effectiveness of the Risen Lord’s mercy. I want to ask others how we can make this truth that God is able to make repentant sinners truly holy in this life more visible in the Church?

    • Father George David Byers

      @ elizdelphi – What I’m getting at is not neuroses or sins but weakness consequent to original sin. And yes, one must love God I’m the perfection of His love.

  2. sanfelipe007

    There is a prayer “Lord, bring to perfection what you have begun in me.” Does this prayer have roots in the relatively novel?

  3. elizdelphi

    My mind thinks of actual fitness and functioning (ill health itself being a consequence of original sin) but maybe you mean not that but humbling awareness of the presence of concupiscence?

  4. elizdelphi

    I see the reasons why I am considered unfit for an “official” vocation as also effects of original sin.

  5. elizdelphi

    I am not sure what you mean, the opposite? I had in mind that having asperger syndrome which is the main reason why I am unfit is an effect of original sin. is that untrue? obviously autistic people or people with Down syndrome or cleft palate are not “more originally sinful” than others but isn’t everything awry in creation somehow an effect of original sin even though God can make all things work together for good?

  6. elizdelphi

    I am sorry though, since I now have gotten this off the intended topic.

  7. sanfelipe007

    I believe we are on the same topic, if tangentially.

  8. elizdelphi

    I certainly want to know what you would say about that Fr George.

  9. Monica Harris

    Fr Byers, if you took that photo of Laudie-dog, you must be pretty great, because she has the look of love.

    God loved us first. Oh, to look upon Jesus, with His Love in us. That’s my “goal”.

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