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Looking for Jesus in our midst

| Wednesday, February 25, 2015

We all want to be happy. We search for work, friendship and opportunities that will help remind us that our lives matter. Some of us find these sorts of opportunities — our callings, if you will — right away. For some of us, that process takes a little bit longer. Either way, to search for this type of meaning is natural and constitutive of the human condition.

I’ve never particularly cared for those essays that begin with “dictionary” definitions, so I’ll avoid that here. But, I do want to try and capture the essence of a word that I think encapsulates this search: “discernment.”

Some might think of discernment in a purely religious context. For example, you might have heard about a process of “discerning,” as one thinks about entering the priesthood or some other form of dedicated or focused service to God or a church.

I want to broaden the definition, however. I wish to suggest that discernment is something for everyone, the process by which we discover (and then follow) those paths that lead us to live lives full of meaning and joy. It is a process for saint and sinner, the means by which we tune our heart to be in harmony with the score of God’s celestial symphony.

Discernment, then, while it always includes God, meets us in all stages and transitions of life: as students, professors, staff, moms and dads, factory workers, farmers, etc.

But, no matter the decision, we have all had (and will continue to have) the opportunity to make choices that, in some way, create a path. Each of these situations provides the opportunity for discernment.

We discern because we need to sort though the many choices and possible decisions of our lives. Perhaps you once had to decide between Notre Dame and another college? Perhaps you have had to choose between jobs? On a much smaller level, each day we have to make a variety of decisions like what to eat and what to wear.

The questions are endless, but one thing remains constant. If we’re honest with ourselves, we want to make good choices that will result in good decisions, decisions that will allow us to live our best lives full of joy and meaning. All of this necessitates good discernment.

Unfortunately, for one reason or another, with these choices and decisions also come blockades. We can be handicapped by a myriad of options, or the possibility of turmoil and confusion in our own lives as demands and other responsibilities seem to limit our opportunities.

And, if you’re like me, sometimes the sheer thought of making a decision could leave you paralyzed. It’s hard to say “no,” to close off possible options. I’ve actually been called a “perpetual discerner,” someone who will think through (often times to exhaustive limits) possible options. Deep down, I think my fear of struggle and suffering motivates me to seek after the “right” decision, a decision that will somehow leave me free of heartache.

This line of thinking leads me to think too much about my will and not enough about God’s will. What if we were to give ourselves the opportunity to hear how God might be speaking or leading us in our hearts?

Our faith promises us that Christ became incarnate and walked among us in order to lead us. And, guess what? He continues to lead us to this day.

How? Most times, we will not see him standing right in our midst. There will be no loud authoritative voices or flashing lights. Rather, clarity into a decision might occur in something we read, or a conversation with a friend. It will occur in the small moments, when God’s presence may be hardest to see.

So, we have to listen. This is hard, especially since we never really know when that clarity or insight might come. And that clarity doesn’t necessarily preclude a path that may be difficult, or filled with pain. But Christ is there through it all in those moments! And we must trust that He is there.

So, the question becomes, are we prepared to recognize those moments Christ is trying to lead us?

Our lives are often like the famous story of the two men who are journeying to Emmaus.  We get so caught up in the craziness of what’s happening around us that we forget to look at where God might be speaking to us right now.

We walk with one another, somewhere in the midst of blindness and sight. That is the human condition. We can’t know everything. Knowing this, we must make a commitment helping one another listen, to be ready for those moments that reveal the presence of a God who, whether we see him clearly or not, always remains in our midst.


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

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