Why am I doing this?

This consideration is indispensable to the soul seeking to delve more deeply into the vocation to which the Almighty One calls it because the question highlights a process by which the soul journeys to God – purification. The pilgrimage of this life ultimately revolves around the soul’s abandonment to Divine Providence. In the context of human nature, the Will of God begins when a person knows and does what is commanded by the Lord, but His will finds its most magnificent incarnation when persons’ knowing and doing is carried out in their purest form by the soul.

To enflesh this abstraction, let us consider that to know the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy is good; to do them, better; and to have an ever-purer reason for doing them, best.

Seminarians learn about the works of mercy during their time of formation and engage these works in a variety of pastoral situations. And yet this knowing and doing is the point of departure on the path of holiness, not the finish line. Knowing and doing are expectations for any vocation, but they can always use refinement.

Consider a person who angrily performs an objectively good act but is very much frustrated throughout its duration. The action may indeed benefit the recipient, but how does this objectively good act carried out in an angry manner affect the soul of the one performing the work?

If it is true that “to do the right thing in the wrong way is somehow to do the wrong thing,” then work was performed, but the manner by which the work was performed needs further consideration and purification. The work, then, is good but not yet done as it ought to be, and if the work is not yet as it ought to be, then the person performing the work is not yet as he should be. There is always more to work on.

When closer attention and reflection are given to why and how works are being performed, the worker’s intention has the potential to be purified and so, too, the manner by which he performs the work. These considerations are not limited to seminarians, of course, but are for any person trying to live his God-given vocation well.

Human nature is excellent at considering what it can gain for itself in carrying out a particular action – “Lord, we have given up everything to follow you, what then will there be for us?” (Mt19:27). Perhaps a good feeling, acknowledgement, acclamation, word of thanksgiving or something else is the current answer to the question of why one engages an act of mercy or goodness. And although this may be a person’s present intention, it is not God’s desire that it remain the person’s permanent intention since the intention of the Almighty One is always pure, and we are to be like Him in all things and in all ways.

Purity of heart in its many dimensions is not easy, but it does bring along with it a promise from the Lord, the beatitude of seeing God – this is the blessedness of the saints.

So, then, to know is good; to do, better; and to do with the purest intention, best. This very high calling “to be holy, because the Lord our God is holy” (Lev 19:2) is reinforced by our blessed Lord to those desiring to follow him – “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). For human beings on this side of heaven, perfection is unattainable, but opportunities for the soul’s ever greater purification abound without end.

The works of mercy, then, can be appreciated as incarnational exhortations that extend divine benefits to both the recipient and giver. To the receiver comes a corporal or spiritual gift from the abundance of God’s goodness by means of the giver who, in making the offering, himself receives the occasion for purification of purpose and manner of delivery.

In other words, every vocation — and every component of the vocation — is to become ever- more spiritually distilled so that it more perfectly reflects the approach from God’s heart, with no selfishness, expectation or personal agenda tainting it, but filled, quite simply, with the holiness of God.

It is one thing for a person to know and to do, but to ask why for the purpose of a purified knowing and doing is something truly blessed that unites the soul more beautifully with God and neighbor.

Why? you may ask. Purification – to the glory of God and salvation of souls.

—Father James Dodson is vocations director for the Diocese of Burlington.

—Originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.