Monday, January 24, 2011

Called to Obscurity

Can any serious Christian say that they haven't at some point asked in prayer what it was that God wanted of them? Conversion is usually accompanied by a desire to serve - to surrender oneself to the will of God. This sentiment was clearly expressed by Blessed John Henry Newman:

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his—if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

The mission that He has for us is often not what we expect or desire, and those he chooses for a given mission are not always those that we, in our human wisdom, would choose. Why did He choose Simon the Zealot to be an apostle and not his friend Lazarus? Why James, the son of Alphaeus, and not Nicodemus? Why the tax collector Matthew and not the tax collector Zaccheus? Simon Peter felt unworthy: "Depart from my Lord, for I am a sinful man." Yet, he ultimately left his fishing business to follow Him. The rich young man just couldn't bring himself to do the same.

When we turn our life over to Him, we expect to make big sacrifices. We tell Him that we'll go wherever He wants us to go and do whatever he wants us to do, all for the greater glory of God. When we discern his will, though, we sometimes find that He is telling us to go home. It's not what we expected to hear, and at first, it's disappointing. After Jesus cast the demons out of the Gadarene demoniac, the young man wanted to follow Him, to become one of his disciples. Instead, Jesus sent him home.

We should not be disappointed to be sent home, for our mission there is no less important. St. Therese compared the obscure missions to the little violet flowers in God's garden:

I understood this also, that God's Love is made manifest as well in a simple soul which does not resist His grace as in one more highly endowed. In fact, the characteristic of love being self-abasement, if all souls resembled the holy Doctors who have illuminated the Church, it seems that God in coming to them would not stoop low enough. But He has created the little child, who knows nothing and can but utter feeble cries, and the poor savage who has only the natural law to guide him, and it is to their hearts that He deigns to stoop. These are the field flowers whose simplicity charms Him; and by His condescension to them Our Saviour shows His infinite greatness. As the sun shines both on the cedar and on the floweret, so the Divine Sun illumines every soul, great and small, and all correspond to His care—just as in nature the seasons are so disposed that on the appointed day the humblest daisy shall unfold its petals.

Having a mission at home is not easy. We are called to be faithful in the little things and to instill in the most mundane chores an abundance of love. We trust that God gives us all of the grace that we need to accomplish our mission. And yet, it almost seems as though faithfulness in the small things is harder. The invisibility of obscurity makes it all too easy to adopt the prevailing morals and practices of the culture.

Every Christian is called to the apostolate. Those called to the apostolate of parenthood are just as much in need of prayers as those who have received high-visibility missions.

All you holy saints in heaven, pray for us!

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