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Jobs, vocations and Boston College

Father Lou DelFra | Thursday, October 11, 2007

It’s about that time when seniors, in particular, start feeling the press of the question: “What will I do next year?” I remember having the same question before me as a senior, and short-circuiting the process by quickly and definitively responding to queries: “I’m going to law school.” My prayer life was such that I more asked God to get me into a good law school than whether God wanted any input on the matter. I didn’t discuss the decision with anyone, so I never exposed myself to what would have been my friends’ and family’s natural question, “Why?” If pressed to answer, I probably would have responded that law was what my dad had done, that it seemed to reward intellectual skill with a nice salary, and that perhaps I could do some good for others. All were probably true, yet I suspect now that what an honest answer to their questions would have helpfully revealed was my half-heartedness.

My time in law school was both miserable and, gratefully, short-lived. Neither my heart nor my soul was into it. I was going through the motions. It was, frankly, depressing.

I left law school and returned home, of course with no backup plan. A friend told me that the computer teacher at the local Catholic high school was going on leave. The Program of Liberal Studies is such a perfect preparation for teaching computers that I thought, “Why not?” Somehow, I got the job, and two weeks later, my heart was on fire.

The students, bequeathed like a gift from God with a rookie teacher mid-semester, prepared their assault, which was, pleasantly, inferior. Teacher-student sports rivalries a huge favorite at all-boys high schools, they foolishly decided to attack my hardly concealed support for Notre Dame football. But they chose a bad year – 1993. Notre Dame was 10-0 through mid-November. I had a stranglehold on them. I even decided to bring four seniors out to the Boston College game. That didn’t go so well. A last-second field goal, and Notre Dame was upset.

I returned on Monday to find all the computer screens in my lab set to a maroon-and-gold screen saver flashing “BC 41 ND 39.” I couldn’t get my students to come in early to do assignments, but a Notre Dame upset got them jumping out of bed. But, even worse, thanks to PLS, I had no idea how to turn the screen savers off! This led to an interesting conversation with the school principal, who in December wondered why I hadn’t turned off that agonizing score. Feeling I just might have the job security to get away with it (I was also coaching three sports, moderating the philosophy club and organizing the school masses – they couldn’t fire me, right?), I decided to come clean on my computer background. I was teaching English and Theology by the next semester. Thank you, Boston College.

Teaching classes that I actually knew something about only fanned the flame of passion for teaching. Becoming a Catholic schoolteacher had focused so many different passions in my life – the intellectual life, service, athletics – and added one unexpected deep joy – the invitation to help form, mentally and spiritually, a new generation of students. It was a rare day that I was not at school late into the evening, coaching or grading, but an even rarer day that I thought I was in the wrong place. This, I guess, is the power of discovering a vocation instead of a job.

A favorite teacher of mine at Notre Dame was Father. Michael Himes, whose lectures often touched on the subject of vocation. He taught us three simple questions that we could ask when trying to discern our vocation:

1) What am I good at?

2) What do others whom I trust tell me I’m good at?

3) What brings true joy to me and others?

The questions, of course, are deceptively simple, for they reach into the very center of our being, which is mysterious to say the least. You don’t emerge from a journey into the center of your heart with neat and clean answers, but rather, more usually, with a little blood and a few interior wounds. One of the more helpful ways to make the journey, I have found, is to make a couple of wrong vocational decisions – very few of which, by the way, are ever irreversible. These “wrong turns” can shake you out of a slumber and force you to ask, “What is my heart’s deepest desire?” Though a little uncomfortable at the time, these times of questioning my heart’s desire have led me to the greatest joys in my life – my vocation as a Catholic school teacher and, ultimately, to the priesthood.

Our hearts’ deepest desire, in the end, coincides with God’s desire for our lives, and the life of the Church and the world. That’s a lot of powerful lines converging in one human heart. It is not a journey that unfolds beginning-to-end during college. The decisions we make now do not bear the burden of determining the rest of our lives – but they are a step into a job, or a vocation, and, perhaps most importantly, the realization of the difference between the two.

Father Lou DelFra is the director of Bible Studies in the Office of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at delfra.2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.