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.
— Blessed John Henry Newman
What is the defining question of our lives? That all-important question is found in The Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” (CCC 2706, emphasis added).
For our entire lives, we’ve been conditioned to make decisions based on what we want, and it goes against our grain to relinquish control to anyone, even to God. It seems as if to do so would require us to give up our freedom. But the opposite is true: we are most free and most human when we are squarely in God’s will.
Perhaps we have messed up God’s plan for us. It could be that God had a certain job in mind for us that would use our abilities and talents to further His kingdom on earth, but we did other things. Maybe we ignored God altogether and lived a self-centered sinful life. It’s possible that God had religious life in mind for us, but we didn’t listen and got married instead. We could be on course, slightly off course, or way off the mark.
Even if we are not on course, no worries! Think of a Global Positioning System (GPS). If we do not follow the instructions, the GPS continually recalibrates to lead us to our destination. It does not send us back to the beginning to start all over. We don’t travel the roads that we have passed up. Rather, the GPS sends us to our destination from where we currently stand. That is how it is with God, but infinitely better.
God can redeem our past. It is quite mysterious how He can take any terrible thing and make something far more beautiful out of it than we ever could have imagined. Think of the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. Now that appeared to be a horrible derailment of God’s plan, yet when God restored the human family, we found ourselves far better off than our first parents. We get to be in the Body of Christ; we get to share in the family of God by a radical change in our nature that actually divinizes us. We might not see it in our earthly lifetimes, and we might not understand it, but when we give our past sins, mistakes, and regrets to God and follow His will, He will take care of all those regrets.
We exist in this challenging day and time for a reason. From all eternity, God had our particular circumstances in mind for our arrival on this earth. And He made sure we would have the help we need.
Works of Mercy
It is human nature to get excited about something new, such as discovering our next mission from God. But any good thing can get out of balance, displacing what we ought to be doing. Pope John Paul II warned about “the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world.” In discerning our mission, there is the danger of becoming self-absorbed. But if we do it God’s way, He will reveal His will for us, even as we focus on others.
God requires certain things of each and every one of us; in fact, we can’t get into Heaven without them. These requirements are an indispensable part of the journey that leads to our mission:
Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matt 25:32–36)
What happens to the goats on the left? Jesus tells them:
“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?” Then he will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt. 25:41–46).
It is essential to our salvation that we minister to the Lord through those in need. So, while we are discerning, praying, investigating, and searching for our mission, we might as well get going on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. Regardless of our forthcoming mission, we need to do them, and it is often in the doing that we discern our mission.
The Corporal Works of Mercy, which tend to physical needs, are:
- to feed the hungry
- to give drink to the thirsty
- to clothe the naked
- to shelter the homeless
- to visit the sick and imprisoned
- to ransom the captive
- to bury the dead
The Spiritual Works of Mercy, which tend to spiritual and emotional needs, are:
- to instruct the ignorant
- to counsel the doubtful
- to admonish the sinner
- to bear wrongs patiently
- to forgive offences willingly
- to comfort the afflicted
- to pray for the living and the dead
It can be overwhelming to see all the works of mercy listed, but they are quite manageable when we consider them in light of our circumstances. For example, God does not expect the father of a family to leave his wife and children to work as a missionary in a third-world country, but perhaps he could teach a religious-education course at his parish. A mother who has young children at home may not be able to leave them or take them with her to serve at a homeless shelter, but she might take her children to visit a lonely neighbor.
There are works of mercy that complement our state in life, whether we are rich or poor, whether we have lots of time or very little, whether we enjoy good health or are infirm. When it comes to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, there’s something — and plenty of it — for everybody. Turning our attention away from ourselves and toward others will enable us to see opportunities to do works of mercy that we never noticed before.
Help Along the Way
As well as opportunities to serve Him, God gives us help to do so. We each have a close companion and guide, a guardian angel, to assist us on our earthly sojourn. The saints certainly availed themselves of the help of their angels. Saint Francis de Sales advised:
Make friends with the angels, who though invisible are always with you. Often invoke them, constantly praise them, and make good use of their help and assistance in all your temporal and spiritual affairs.
Our Lord Jesus, in His great generosity, also gave us His Mother. It doesn’t get any better than having the same mom as Jesus.
Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:27)
Who better than our Blessed Mother can help us as we discern God’s specific plans in our lives? She went through the process; she had to ponder and pray; and she did not know the whole story when she gave her fiat to the Lord.
We’ve already been given some incredible help: our Blessed Mother and our guardian angels. But there’s more! Our elder brothers and sisters in Christ, the saints, want to help us find our missions and carry them out. And they have incredible stories, insights, and advice to share.
We could not be in a better place or time than right where we are now. This may be difficult to believe, but remember, although our perspective is limited, God’s view is eternal. He has a plan, and we need to figure out how to cooperate with Him in that plan.
Given this understanding, what is our response? Will we allow the expectations of others to write the story of our life? Or, will we seek God’s will and carry it out?
We are often fearful of the very things that will bring us peace and courage. It doesn’t make sense to fear God’s will for us. Echoing Jesus’ words, Saint John Paul II told us: “Be not afraid!”
Relinquishing the power to control our lives and giving it to the One who knows us better than we know ourselves, the One who has all the answers, the One who is most capable, makes perfect sense. Our abandonment to God’s purpose, and the required trust in Him and His plan, is where our fulfillment, our greatest desire, is found. It is the only answer that will satisfy.