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Job hunting and the call of God

Fr. Lou DelFra | Thursday, October 6, 2011

About this time each Fall, led of course by our senior class, we 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: “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 considered whether God wanted any input on the matter.

I didn’t discuss the decision with hardly 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 certain intellectual and analytical skills I possessed 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 halfheartedness.

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.

I left law school and returned home — of course, with no back-up plan. A friend told me that the computer teacher at the local Catholic high school was going on leave. PLS was 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. They foolishly decided as a main strategy to attack my hardly concealed support for Notre Dame football — teacher-student sports rivalries were a huge favorite at all-boys high schools. But they chose a terrible year — 1993. ND was rolling at 10-0 through mid-November. I had a stranglehold on them — bright yellow pants and a navy Oxford was a favorite teaching wardrobe for me that fall. I even decided to bring four seniors out to the Boston College game, so they could witness ND seal the deal … that didn’t go so well. A last second field-goal and ND 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 an upset of their teacher’s favorite team got them leaping out of bed. But, even worse — and thanks to my beloved 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 3 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 school teacher 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, the next 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 suspect, is the power of discovering a vocation, instead of a job.

A favorite teacher of mine at Notre Dame was Fr. Michael Himes, whose lectures often touched on the subject of vocation. He taught us 3 simple questions that we could ask when trying to discern our vocation:

1

) What brings you joy?

2) What are you good at?

3) Does the world need you to do it?

The questions, of course, are deceptively simple, for they reach into the very center of our being, which is mysterious, not simple, to say the least. You don’t usually emerge from a journey into the center of your heart with crystalline and tidy answers, but rather, more frequently, with a few wounds and some more or less inchoate suspicions of who you are.

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 us out of a slumber and force us 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, Holy Cross and the priesthood.

Our heart’s 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 tidily, beginning to end, during college. The decisions we make now do not bear the burden of determining the rest of our lives. Rather, they are a step into a job, or a vocation, and — perhaps most importantly for now — the realization of the difference between the two.

Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC, is the Director of Pastoral Life for ACE and a member of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at delfra.2@nd.edu

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