Joseph Schooling after winning the 100m Butterfly at the 2016 Olympics in Rio
You and I – all of us – were created to be part of an epic story that spans the length and breadth of Eternity. The human heart was created with a desire to be part of something greater than ourselves, and we crave to be carried up in something so magnificent that we are all instinctively drawn to things that feed that desire. We flock to become immersed in epic dramas like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. We try to satisfy our desire to belong to a greater story with our allegiance to various sports teams in battle for triumph and glory. (Was it not wonderful to be caught up in the euphoria that Singaporeans had when Joseph Schooling won Singapore’s first gold in Rio?) We find gossip so irresistible because we get to tell and retell, critique and analyse the sordid details of people’s lives – details that tap into our innate (but disordered) desire for meaning. Could it be that we crave heroes to worship just as much as we relish having villains to hate because we need to feel that our lives have greater significance than the small, finite realities we know? What would happen if we discovered that WE have a powerful and irreplaceable role to play in the story of the world and that it is a role that we were uniquely called and gifted to play?
For too many Catholics I know, faith is an unexciting reality that is reduced to fulfilling the Sunday obligation and maybe getting involved with a couple of ministries or communities in the parish/church. Others feel stuck after having chosen a state of life – be it married, single, or ordained/religious. I know parents who love their spouses and children but who still find themselves frustrated because they yearn for something MORE. Surely there must be something more to why God created them than to wake up for midnight feeds and nappy changes or dealing with demanding children? What about the dreams of their youth? What about the gifts and talents they have that seem now untapped and doomed to wither away in oblivion? What about that unrelenting desire to do something that actually matters in the bigger scheme of things?
For lay people, the challenge for significance can feel even more acute because our call seems less defined than those of the priests and religious. Yes, we (hopefully!) know we are meant to live out our faith in daily life beyond the walls of our parish, that we are called to holiness as much as those who are called to religious life. But more often than not, our faith and our lives in the world seem to be pulling us apart rather than holding us together. We often find that if our significance in the world is to grow, our faith lives diminish; and if we were to focus on growing our spiritual lives, our chance at doing something significant in the “real world” diminishes because the world plays by rules so starkly different from the Beatitudes we Christians are called to live by.
How can we be both faithful disciples AND effective agents in the world? THAT is the crux of the lay apostolate – for being a lay apostle is not about serving the Church; it is about participating in Christ’s work of bringing healing to the wounded, comfort to the mourning, love to the lonely, and dignity to the exploited out in the world. Lay apostles are the vanguard of the Church in her mission to the ends of the world. Even more specifically, being a lay apostle is not just about being a generic apostle. Rather, it involves us coming to discover the unique mission that we are called and gifted for – a mission that will encompass every mundane detail in our lives and transform those mundane details into moments of eternal significance. But this transformation can only happen when we have become connected to the epic story of the universe, when we have found our place in the story. That connection is made through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the gradual discernment of who we were created to be.
This discovery of who we were created uniquely to be is the discernment of our PERSONAL VOCATION. That is the unique, irreplaceable, unrepeatable role that we are meant to play in the story of the universe – a role that nobody can duplicate, and which, like the flutter of a tiny butterfly’s wings, can set off a chain of grace resulting in effects far greater than we could ever imagine. Our personal vocation is more than a state of life. It is far more concrete and specific than being a spouse/parent or a profession. Because we each have a unique mix of giftedness, life experience, passion and opportunity, we are called to discover our unique way of being a spouse/parent, student, or any other life roles we play. We will come to see our mission in each environment that we are in very differently from another person who may have a very similar job or role.
Two women may both be mothers but have very different gifts. The one gifted with a charism of teaching would put more emphasis and be much more effective in the formation of her children, while the one who has a charism of administration would be breathtakingly effective at coordinating the complicated schedules of a large family in such a way that the household runs smoothly and everybody is taken care of. Two people may be lawyers by profession, but the one with a charism of mercy will find it a special mission to provide legal services for the poor and ‘invisibles’ in society, while the one with a charism of encouragement may find the most joy in his work in lending a listening ear and giving uplifting counsel to his clients. The point is, we all have our special story which is part of the larger story of the universe. Not only do we each have a unique call that would make us come fully alive, we are all specifically gifted to fulfil that call.
As Catholic Christians, we have the awesome privilege and duty to discover who we are created to be and how we are meant to contribute to Salvation History. This process of discernment is immensely personal and concrete and is a powerful way in which we come to live the abundant life that Christ came to give (Jn 10:10). When we begin to live our stories – even when we are still in the process of actively discerning what our story is – we will find that we have a passion for life we never knew we had before, and that is because we would have found the conviction that who we are called to be matters. The more deeply we have entered into our personal vocation, the more fully alive and powerful our lives become in effecting God’s Kingdom on earth. We will see ourselves becoming channels of God’s love and mercy, truth and justice, healing and comfort in the little things that we do everyday. We will be so amazed by the impact that God makes in the world through our little acts of faithfulness that we would long to give ourselves even more completely over to His love.
The impact that you and I make in the Kingdom can only be appreciated fully by us when we have thrown off our mortal coil and our horizons have been broadened by the infinity of eternity. But the joy of living that life of impact begins here and now, and it begins with discipleship and the discernment of our personal vocation. As we celebrate Lay Apostolate Sunday today, why not reflect on the greatness that we are called to, and the unique story that God is writing with our lives? Let us listen to the dreams and desires that God has placed in our hearts and trust that He means to fulfil them beyond what we can hope. And then, let us begin to do what is necessary today for us to live out the story that will have our names resounding in heaven!
* This post is dedicated to a dear friend and brother who will be embarking on a long journey tomorrow to continue discerning his personal vocation. May you find God’s grace always sufficient for the journey ahead, and may you come back in 5 years’ time more fully alive and joyful than ever!