Acting in the Courage of Our Uncertainties

March 21, 2009 § Leave a comment

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We are all uncertain about what God wants us to do. That is to say, we do not know for sure. Of course it seems silly, when you’re well past middle age and have spent your life doing what you believe you’ve been given to do, to always be getting up in the morning or suddenly stopping in the middle of the day’s work to ask, “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?” I mentioned this to a young man who is discerning whether he has a call to the priesthood, and he was shocked, perhaps scandalized. He said, in effect, “You mean after all these years of being a priest, of writing books, of editing and lecturing, of organizing so many projects, you still aren’t sure you’re doing what God called you to do? How am I ever to know that God is calling me to the priesthood?”

The answer is that we act in the courage of our uncertainties. I am fond of pointing out that the word decide comes from the Latin decidere, “to cut off.” You face choices—whether to be a priest, whether to go to this school or that, whether to marry a certain person, whether to pursue this line of work or another—and then you decide. And, in deciding, you have cut off the alternatives and pray you have decided rightly. But you do not know for sure. Or else you are trapped in the tangled web of indecision.

In this connection, I have had frequent recourse, both homiletically and personally, to one of the most liberating passages from Saint Paul—1 Corinthians 4. He has been trying to explain himself and his apostolate to the Christians in Corinth. He doesn’t know whether he has succeeded, and then he says this: “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. . . . Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” Do not judge before the time! I do not even judge myself! These are the words of a life set free from the tangled web of introspection and indecision (Richard John Neuhaus, First Things, 79-80; emphasis mine).

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