In his book “Saint Paul”, Pope Benedict offers the following thoughts on the experience that Paul had on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and its implication for the Christian life:
“As can be seen, in all these passages Paul never once interprets this moment as an event of conversion. Why? There are many hypotheses, but for me the reason is very clear. This turning point in his life, this transformation of his whole being was not the fruit of a psychological process, of a maturation or intellectual and moral development. Rather it came from the outside: it was the fruit, not of his thought, but of his encounter with Jesus Christ. In this sense it was not simply a conversion, a development of his ‘ego’, but rather a death and a resurrection for Paul himself. One existence died, and another, new one was born with the Risen Christ…
We are only Christians if we encounter Christ. Of course, he does not show himself to us in this overwhelming, luminous way, as he did to Paul to make him the Apostle to all peoples. But we too can encounter Christ in reading Sacred Scripture, in prayer, in the liturgical life of the Church. We can touch Christ’s Heart and feel him touching ours. Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we truly become Christians. And in this way our reason opens, all Christ’s wisdom opens, as do all the riches of truth.”
Our Holy Father makes an important point when he reflects that the experience Paul had on the road to Damascus was not an inner psychological development on Paul’s part – a maturing of his ego – but rather an encounter with another, specifically the Risen Lord (the one who once was dead but who now lives). It is this encounter from without that alone necessitates a dramatic death and resurrection in Saul’s own life. The one who once was persecuting the Church becomes the Apostle to the Gentiles!
The Pope then brings this very same dynamic to our doorstep. “We are only Christian if we encounter Christ.” The encounter we have may not be as dramatic as that of Paul on the Damascus road but it is just as true. In our prayer, in Sacred Scripture, in the worship of the Church, in service to another we also encounter Christ. In all these ways we “touch Christ’s Heart and feel him touching ours.” The heart of all discipleship is encountering Christ.
In this realization there is an implication for discerning ones vocation in life. We cannot necessarily reason our way to a vocation in life! Christian vocation is not the result of a inner and private process of ego maturation. Christian vocation springs first and foremost from the encounter with Christ!
This does not mean that our reason and intellect are unengaged in the process but it does mean putting first things first! The encounter with Christ is primary and then from this reason is enlightened and fulfilled. “Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we truly become Christians. And in this way our reason opens, all Christ’s wisdom opens, as do all the riches of truth.”
We cannot reason our way to a vocation in the Christian life. If we attempt this route we will just spin our wheels – expending a lot of energy but really going nowhere.
If you want to know your vocation then go to Christ. Approach him in the Blessed Sacrament, find him in the Scriptures, recognize him in the face of the poor, listen to him in the silent movement of your heart and will. Allow Christ to encounter you and then your reason will be enlightened and all the riches of truth will be found. And do not be afraid. If Christ calls you then he will sustain you.
“We are only Christian if we encounter Christ.”