A lot of people get really hung up on this question:
“What does God want me to do?” What is the right choice? What’s the Lord’s will?
So many folks can become paralyzed by fear… fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of going the wrong way.
This is the mistake that guy made in today’s parable. We learn that “out of fear” he went off and buried his one single talent in the ground. The others went and invested their talents in the bank, and gained interest. They were not paralyzed by fear.
They were free.
Free to decide.
To be what God created them to be!
God wants us to be free. He wants us to be able to make fearless choices for ourselves on a day to day basis. He doesn’t want to control our every move. God is NOT a tyrant. He’s NOT a micromanager. And we are certainly not His mindless marionettes that He just yanks around to and fro as He pleases!
Rather, the Lord wants us to be active agents. He wants us to invest ourselves… To use our gifts, our brains, and our wits. To take holy risks. To be courageous. To choose THIS rather than THAT. To strike out on the adventure of following Him without hesitation or reluctance.
In short… to actually LIVE LIFE, rather than just passively existing… getting thrown around haphazardly, or merely avoiding pain and difficulty.
Fr. Michael Scanlan, former president of Franciscan University in Steubenville, in his book “What Does God Want” offers FIVE practical steps we can follow when making decisions in your life… decisions both big and small… These five steps are necessary elements to any proper act of discernment, and they will help prevent us from shriveling up in fear and indecision… of burying the talents God has given us, and instead set us on the road to holiness and heaven.
- Does it conform to God’s will?
This one is the most basic and most obvious: Does the option or choice you are considering conform to God’s revealed will? The fact is… we’ve been told quite a lot of things about reality directly from the Lord through Sacred Scripture as well as through the Tradition of the Church. In other words, we already know right from wrong on a whole host of questions that may or may come up.
As St. Paul put it in our second reading: “You, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness!” No, we are “children of the light and children of the day.” We have the light of Truth!!! We’ve been taught right from wrong by the Lord Himself!
You are free to disagree with these revelations, but if you choose to do so, you are not simply disagreeing with the Church as a religious organization coming up with arbitrary rules… you are disagreeing with God as He has revealed Himself to us!
This means that when making choices, we can look at what God has already revealed through His Word and through the Church, and we can know immediately whether or not some choices are God’s ways or not.
But what if the decision does conform to God’s revealed will, but it’s still not obvious if it’s what God is calling you to do? Well… then we need to proceed to step #2.
- Does it encourage conversion?
The second test of discernment asks this question: “Will the proposed action draw me closer to God… or will it lead me away from Him?”
CS Lewis once said: “Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature.”
Every choice we make ought to contribute to our overall holiness. So we need to take a closer look at our motives, at the various risks and benefits of pursuing this or that path, of the likelihood of various temptations or other pitfalls we might face.
Only if we perceive that a decision will open us up to holiness and foster a deeper relationship with the Lord should we proceed to the third test of discernment:
- Is it consistent?
Meaning… is it consistent with the way that Jesus has spoken to you in the past? Now, this third step presumes that we are consistently listening to God’s Voice in our lives, and that we’ve come to recognize the way He actually does speak to us.
God is consistent. We know that He Himself never changes. The technical term for this is that God is “immutable.” God is Who He says He is. “I AM who I AM.” Therefore we can be sure that He never changes His mind about anything! If He shares with us a new direction or a shift in our path… it’s sure to be part of a bigger, more grand plan that He has had all along.
So… when we are making decisions big or small, we can expect the Lord’s prompting to have a sort of familiar ring to it. It will be consistent with the way He has spoken to us in the past. I find that his Voice is always one of Encouragement, Love, Mercy, and an intense yet gentle invitation. When I hear that I say: “Ah yes! That’s Jesus! I know that Voice!!!”
But even if we believe we have recognized the consistent Voice of God and we think we know where a decision is heading…there are still two more tests we need to apply when making a choice:
- Is it confirmed?
This step is key, and it usually comes when we’ve already formed a tentative decision in our mind and heart. Confirmation can come in a whole variety of forms. It could be that you open up your Bible to just the most perfect, most relevant passage that gives you the courage to take the leap and make a choice. Or a friend or loved one says or does something at just the precise moment that you KNOW it’s the Holy Spirit. …A homily that says what you need to hear at just the moment you need to hear it.
When I was deciding between dating and going off to seminary, God gave me all sorts of different confirmations that pointed me in the right direction.
The Lord understood how dense I was, so in His mercy, He knocked me over the head with quite a few signs… subtle and not so subtle…until I could no longer ignore them all.
And this brings us to our final step of making a choice:
- Are you convicted?
This is an important final step: Is your heart burning? Is there a deep sort of “knowing?” — Does your heart say “YES?” Do you WANT to choose this path?
Now, this is much different than feeling perfectly at peace or perfectly calm when making a choice. For example, I was not perfectly calm when I made the decision to enter seminary. I was not levitating…glowing… serene and saintly… No no no.
I was a mess!
But I did know in my heart that it was the right thing to do. And what’s more, I also knew I’d never be fully at peace with God or myself until I took the plunge and at least gave it a shot. I knew that to refuse God this choice would amount to burying my talent out of fear.
You can apply these five steps of discernment to ALL of your life choices. Even the small daily ones. As we heard in the Gospel today: “Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.”
Ask yourself: When I pick up the phone to call a friend, or when I send a “thank you” note, or drop off a food donation for the House of Mercy… When I take care of a dirty diaper, or when I visit a sick friend, volunteer at the Church, listen to someone who is sad, angry, or worried…
…Am I convicted that I’m doing the Lord’s work? Have I entered into this present moment with faith, hope and love? With obedience? With God as my absolute, ultimate goal?
Our job is to daily discern the Lord’s will and so invest in becoming more and more heavenly — The sort of person who will hear Jesus say to them at the end of their life as we heard in our gospel this weekend: “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”
Today we are baptizing three little ones.
In just a few moments, they will be washed of original sin, they will receive Divine Life into their souls, and their brand new adventure with the Lord will begin. They are being handed many, many talents from God Himself…
Who knows what sorts of decisions and choices these children will need to make in their lifetime??? Who knows what their choices will be? What will they do with their talents???
All we know for sure is that God is calling them to greatness. To holiness! And I know He will be right there with them at every step, guiding them… convicting them… calling them. And I know the Church will be right there as well, to encourage them along the way, and provide what they need.
And each one of them will be free to respond in faith!
So we pray for these children in a special way today. And we also ask God for the graces each of us will need in order to make good use of the talents He has blessed us with!
Let us never bury our gifts out of fear!!!!
Let’s live the adventure the good Lord has placed before us!