Discipleship is for everyone
That God has a unique plan and adventure for each of his sons and daughters is an exciting idea. Growing up, I had heard about vocation and discipleship, but that God has a life of good deeds prepared in advance for each of us (Ephesian 2:10), was an idea that never sunk in.
I was born in New York City and grew up in Buffalo, New York. As a family, we always went to Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. I attended the University of Rochester, and after graduation I worked in my family business, retail furniture. I would hear in the Gospels how Jesus called James and John to let go of their nets and leave their family business to follow him. I heard Jesus’ challenge to the rich young man to sell his possessions, give to the poor and follow him. God called, He shouted and finally He broke through my deafness.
God has a building project, His Kingdom, and He is recruiting coworkers. This kingdom will last forever. How exciting that He wants me to play a part, and how much greater are His plans for me than my puny and selfish plans for myself! “Thy will be done” takes on much greater meaning when we see our life in terms of vocation and discipleship.
While God calls some to priesthood and religious life in this project, the vast majority are called in the midst of marriage, family, school, business and all walks of life. One of the great errors of the past, and still not uncommon today, is the idea that vocation and discipleship apply only to those with specifically religious vocations. One of the tasks of the Institute for Missionary Discipleship here in the Diocese of Burlington, where I serve as spiritual formation delegate, and lay formation in general is to help participants discern their gifts and talents and then foster the baptismal call to service in the Church.
Many people today are taught to discern their gifts and talents. That is good and necessary. But seldom are they taught that those gifts are from God for service to the Body of Christ, His Church. Sadly, the life aim of some people is to achieve material comfort and satisfaction for themselves and those closest to them. Jesus describes this tendency as burying one’s talent in a handkerchief, or hiding one’s light under a bushel basket. It is to turn one’s back on the larger project and purpose of life.
St. Paul refers to God’s project as restoring all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10). The world is broken, and Jesus has recruited us in a divine repair project. We bring our meager efforts to Him and He polishes them up and makes them beautiful and acceptable to the Father. The final result, the fullness of the Kingdom, will be spectacular and far surpassing anything we can imagine. But for that to happen, we need to be convinced of our unique, personal and unrepeatable vocation from God. We need to be ready to put our talents and endowments, which are His gifts to us, at His disposal. Only then does one’s life take on a fully Christian character.
The Second Vatican Council said, “The laity are given this special vocation: to make the Church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them that she can become the salt of the earth” (Lumen Gentium 33). In other words, not only is vocation, discipleship and holiness not for an exclusive few, but entire parts of the world and society will never be evangelized unless the laity takes up this call. The task of the Institute of Missionary Discipleship is to open these vistas for one’s life and to help people live out the adventure God has prepared uniquely for them in His great restoration project.
There’s no more worthwhile work to be had.
—Father Henry Furman is pastor of St. Luke Church in Fairfax and Ascension Church in Georgia.
—Originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.