I hate vocation stories…or at least I used to. I always struggle with the fact that so many of these stories, after dealing with the twists and turns of that person’s vocational journey, seemed to end with seminary as if it were the solution to all their problems. But I have to tell you that that is not the case, as I learned the hard way.
As I entered seminary, I believed that it would be like my past experiences of college, but when I tried to joke and be myself, it was badly received, so I pulled back and was quiet. I was told that my theology degree would help me get out of introductory classes, but I found myself fighting tooth and nail to prove that I knew anything. And an irrational fear of the human pillar of seminary formation—of being told I wasn’t human enough—was quickly realized in my first formation meeting. I felt like Jeremiah in the First Reading, who said, “You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped.”
In a similar way, in the Gospel we heard last week, Peter has just heard that Jesus would “give [him] the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” But then in today’s Gospel, Jesus turns around and predicts His Passion, which seems to go completely counter to what Jesus had just said to him about the Kingdom of God. So it’s no wonder that he says, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
As I continued through seminary, I continued to feel this heaviness, and whenever it became too overwhelming, I would find myself saying to myself: “I don’t want to be here.” The last time I preached, I talked about listening for God’s voice in the silence. But when we listen for God’s voice, there is the risk also of hearing our own or the enemy’s voice. When I brought the situation to my spiritual director, he very simply and bluntly said, “And whose voice do you think that is?”
When I was able to recognize that that voice was not from God, this did not remove the sufferings, but allowed me to see this as part of God’s Plan. Instead of being a passive participant in my life, I felt God calling me to take an active role in my spiritual life. Jesus tells us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
We are also called to take an active role in our spiritual lives, taking up the crosses that God allows to come into our lives. However, as we carry our crosses, we do not do this alone, but always following after Jesus. I don’t hate vocation stories anymore because I know that it’s only part of the story, that discerning our vocation is part of the Cross, but a Cross that ultimately leads to the Resurrection.