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NCC guest column: The ways God calls

03-02-2017

I had to laugh. As I sat down to write this reflection, I typed the words “I am amazed at the way in which God calls.” As I stared a blinking cursor, my cell phone began to ring. It was a dear friend who called to let me know that he and his family were being relocated back to Raleigh.

We laughed together when I told him that God was using him and that well-timed ring. It was God’s way of breaking in to my day to reassure me that he is with me always and that all I have to do to write this article—or to accomplish any work—is to pause, invite God in and let him speak.

As a new director of Vocations and Seminarian Formation, I am discovering the absolute truth that vocations are the fruit of prayer. I know that my own vocation not only sprang from prayer, but it is sustained daily by prayer, both by my own poor prayers and by the overwhelming generosity of so many prayers of others.

The truth about prayer is sometimes too easy to forget. I am often tempted to apply the latest technology or some proven program or event that engages and encourages vocations. In the end, these things can be helpful but they are no real substitute for prayer.

I grew up in a Catholic family in North Carolina, when the population of Catholics was only 2 percent. Many of my friends had misconceptions about Catholics. But, to us, Catholicism was normal. It was the way my family lived. We prayed the nightly rosary, and we dressed for Mass on Sunday. We lived our Faith as a family.

As I reflect on my early Catholic life in the South, I didn’t know it at the time, but being different as a Catholic in the South was normal to us. My parents didn’t voice this; it was modeled by them. And living the truths of our Catholic Faith made a difference in the community in which we lived. Even in public, we prayed grace before meals. We brought meals to poor families and we helped prepare little cups with treats for patients at St. Joseph’s nursing home. Our parents were forming us as disciples of Christ and we didn’t know it.

Later in life, while secretly discerning a call to the priesthood, that same difference which I felt as a child became obvious to me again.

After college and grad school, while living in Chicago, I would reverse commute to IBM’s office in Oakbrook. I would leave the city of Chicago at 5 a.m. so that I could get to a little Polish church that had a daily 6 a.m. Mass.

In the winter, Mass was held downstairs in the crypt, so they didn’t have to heat the upper church. It was an intimate place, with just a warm glow around the altar. Each morning I would cross the black ice in the parking lot and sit in the small darkened nave of the crypt church. Each day, there were only two older Polish women, bundled in coats, with canes and their customary babushkas covering their heads. There we sat and prayed waiting for Mass to begin. Why were a 25-year-old kid from North Carolina and these two Polish ladies secretly going to Mass each morning, unseen and unnoticed by the world? I don’t know, but it struck me that I was different. Not better, just different. And I was searching for what God wanted. It felt like home. It still does today.

Lessons

Be open to God in every moment.

Be aware of the people you are praying with and those who are praying for you.

Formation starts in the home and lasts a lifetime. Parents are key to the future.

God is always pursuing us in love; we must learn how to cooperate.

Be aware of where we are resisting God’s loving invitation to go beyond ourselves.

Our lives are about giving.

Father Philip M. Tighe is the director of Vocations for the Diocese of Raleigh.