These words from St. Gregory of Nyssa are helpful in the discerning of a vocation. Discernment of vocation, if it is to be authentic, must not just remain in ones thoughts but must be carried forth into words and action.
From a treatise on Christian Perfection by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, bishop.
Christ should be manifest in our whole life
The life of the Christian has three distinguishing aspects: deeds, words and thought. Thought comes first, then words, since our words express openly the interior conclusions of the mind. Finally, after thoughts and words, comes action, for our deeds carry out what the mind has conceived. So when one of these results in our acting or speaking or thinking, we must make sure that all our thoughts, words and deeds are controlled by the divine ideal, the revelation of Christ. For then our thoughts, words and deeds will not fall short of the nobility of their implications.
What then must we do, we who have been found worthy of the name of Christ? Each of us must examine his thoughts, words and deeds, to see whether they are directed toward Christ or are turned away from him. This examination is carried out in various ways. Our deeds or our thoughts or our words are not in harmony with Christ if they issue from passion. They then bear the mark of the enemy who smears the pearl of the heart with the slime of passion, dimming and even destroying the luster of the precious stone.
On the other hand, if they are free from and untainted by every passionate inclination, they are directed toward Christ, the author and source of peace. He is like a pure, untainted stream. If you draw from him the thoughts in your mind and the inclinations of your heart, you will show a likeness to Christ, your source and origin, as the gleaming water in a jar resembles the flowing water from which it was obtained.
For the purity of Christ and the purity that is manifest in our hearts are identical. Christ’s purity, however, is the fountainhead; ours has its source in him and flows out of him. Our life is stamped with the beauty of his thought. The inner and the outer man are harmonized in a kind of music. The mind of Christ is the controlling influence that inspires us to moderation and goodness in our behavior. As I see it, Christian perfection consists in this: sharing the titles which express the meaning of Christ’s name, we bring out this meaning in our minds, our prayers and our way of life.
There are Star War nerds, Star Trek nerds, Hello Kitty nerds and Lord of the Rings nerds … just to name a few. Part of the dynamic of the “nerd” is to keep returning to the source of fascination – watching the movie or reading the book for the one hundredth time. With this stipulation, I have come to realize that I am a St. Augustine nerd. Anything I come across by the Bishop of Hippo I latch onto even if I have already encountered it a number of times before. Today’s excerpt from Augustine’s Confessions found in the Office of Readings is a prime example. This is a very familiar section to me but yet, once again, it spoke in a new way and I found myself being led by the saint’s thoughts into a new insight.
The part that most struck me was the first paragraph quoted.
Lord, you know me. Let me know you. Let me come to know you even as I am known. You are the strength of my soul; enter it and make it a place suitable for your dwelling, a possession without spot or blemish. This is my hope and the reason I speak. In this hope I rejoice, when I rejoice rightly. As for the other things of this life, the less they deserve tears, the more likely will they be lamented; and the more they deserve tears, the less likely will men sorrow for them. For behold, you have loved the truth, because the one who does what is true enters into the light. I wish to do this truth before you alone by praising you, and before a multitude of witnesses by writing of you.
First off, Augustine’s audaciousness strikes me. Lord … Let me know you. This is God that Augustine is addressing before whom we are each just a speck of dust yet Augustine is confident to make this request. Augustine can do this because he has come to realize that God indeed wants to be known by us. God wants relationship with us. In fact, all of salvation history can be read as God seeking relationship with us. An effort, on God’s part, that culminates and is fulfilled in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Second, Augustine realizes that for us to begin to know God we need to first open ourselves to him; allowing him to make of us a pleasing dwelling place by his purifying presence. Augustine is not shy about confessing his own sinfulness and he is wise enough to recognize that God cannot dwell together with sin and evil. We cannot hold onto our sins and expect God to not notice nor care. The presence of God demands conversion – both big and small – on our part. I believe that one of the most besetting sins of our age is a fundamental ingratitude in the heart that flies into a huff when anyone (including God) dares to challenge it to move beyond its self-absorption and narcissism. This ingratitude is witnessed to in the thought that God had better accomodate himself to my sins rather than myself being challenged and converted.
I would venture to say that Augustine would have no place for those with an ungrateful heart. In other words, I think that the saint would be someone who would find it hard to suffer fools. This awareness on Augustine’s part of the needed purifying presence of God in life brings insight and allows him to judge rightly the tenor of the times where what does not deserve tears is lamented and where what does deserve tears is barely noticed let alone sorrowed after. Allowing God’s presence to make of us a pleasing dwelling does not just remain within as a comforting sentiment, a warm fuzzy inside. The more that God comes to dwell within the more one is able to both discern the world and see correctly while also discerning oneself and ones own place in the world.
This is where my own Vocation Director ears listen in attentively to Augustine’s development of thought. When we in all humility allow God to come within us and “know” us; we learn who we ourselves are meant to be. We start to realize our vocation in life. When we do not allow God within then we will never break beyond the surface of any true self-knowledge. No matter how many seminars we go to or self-help books we read or hours in therapy we attend or “stuff” we acquire.
When we allow God within we discover who we ourselves are.
For behold, you have loved the truth, because the one who does what is true enters into the light.