Saint Augustine, upon arriving at one of the most intense moments of his phenomenal work, The Confessions, once wrote these words to God: “Too late did I love You, O Fairness, so ancient, and yet so new!”
Speaking from my own story, perhaps no other phrase summarizes the experience of God’s call better. Often, when speaking of vocations, we hear the world “call”. It’s logical; yet there is an even more important one that always proceeds it: “love”.
The encounter with Christ is an encounter with love. It is the moment when you say, “I can’t believe it. This is real!” It is the moment when your eyes are opened and you look back on your life in radically new way: “You have always been there with me, loving me.” This is why Augustine says, “Too late did I love you.”
Not so much because it is too late, as if he missed his chance, rather because he is feeling an urgency never before experienced: the urgency to respond to this immensity of love with a few drops of his own.
The encounter with the vocation is simultaneously an encounter with something ancient. Here, I don’t mean something old, rather something that it is at the origin. In finding oneself face to face with God, one discovers who one is, where one comes from; one feels at home perhaps for the first time.
God ceases to simply be a concept or a moral figure; you can now perceive him how He truly is: a loving Father and a generous Creator. It’s the moment when you thought you had set your sails for exotic lands, only to discover that you right back where you started. It’s something like Chesterton’s English yachtsman who thought he had set out for an island in the South Seas, only to realize that he had discovered England, again. Never are we so close to ourselves, than we we are close to God.
At the same time, however, there is something dramatically “new” as well. God reveals to you who you are, but because we commonly have such a reduced vision of our own identity, his revelation necessarily blows our schemes out of the water. No one believes more in your greatness than he, but “greatness” for God is almost always different than how we conceive it.
The moment you allow his gaze to penetrate into your heart is the moment when you can say goodbye to any form of routine, swimming-down-the-stream kind of lifestyle. Christian life is by nature an adventure, so you had better be prepared. For a while, my plan was to be a normal, Texan businessmen. After state-jumping a few years in the US, 4 years in Peru and now 3 years in Italy, you can probably guess that I threw the old plan out the window a long time ago; and, I couldn’t be happier doing so.
Here is a larger portion of the text from Augustin’s The Confessions, chapter 10. It’s worth taking a few minutes to read and meditate.
Too late did I love You! For behold, You were within, and I without, and there did I seek You; I, unlovely, rushed heedlessly among the things of beauty You made. You were with me, but I was not with You. Those things kept me far from You, which, unless they were in You, were not. You called, and cried aloud, and forced open my deafness. You gleamed and shine, and chase away my blindness. You exhaled odours, and I drew in my breath and do pant after You. I tasted, and do hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.
I would also like to offer a few ideas that might help in making an important distinction when we speak about “vocations”: the general path and the personal path.
The General Path
“The general path is that which the Christian life proposes. It’s a pathway to which we are all called, to which we are all invited to travel. Yes, I speak of the way towards holiness. Striving for holiness is essential for those who exert every effort to follow Lord Jesus closer and closer. To become a saint one needs to constantly live more intensely the Life of Jesus, to increasingly be rooted in the style of the Life of the Lord, living from His Life. To enter the way of holiness is to live a process of conformation with Lord Jesus by a profound inner transformation.
For this very reason the path of holiness is a road that leads us to become more fully human persons. As we get closer and closer to the Lord Jesus, who fully reveals man to man himself,1 we are more fully realized. This, bringing out our human capabilities, introduces us into a dynamism which leads us “to be” more, and this opens for us a beautiful horizon in which all that is authentically human has room and space for its complete unfolding, according to the Plan of God.”
The Personal Path
The personal path is the specific way for each individual. Each person is situated within unique “coordinates” in life: his personal qualities; his family and general social surroundings; his past, his own history, together with many other circumstances. And each and every one, in his particular situation, is called by God to be a saint.
The vocation, or personal call, that comes from God is directed individually to each person, who has his own characteristics and his own horizons. It is not a whim of God; instead, it’s a manifestation of his loving salvific plan for each person. To answer the call or not has direct implications for one’s own happiness. If I respond freely, I can travel the path to my fulfillment. The general vocation to holiness is made concrete in the personal vocation.
At this point, each one of us can look at himself and attest that as we discover our calling, whose echo is expressed with singular intensity in the longing for infinity, we also encounter multiple obstacles for its realization in our lives.
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