My son Jonah sat there with his shirt off looking pretty proud of himself.
“Jonah, put your shirt on; it’s winter.”
“But it’s hot in here,” came his quick and witty reply.
“No, it’s warm in here, and warm indoor spaces don’t mean that you get to take your clothes off whenever you want, especially not when you’re eating with others.”
The other family members at the table laughed at this.
“Yeah, seriously!” cried one of his sisters.
“But dad,” Jonah took on a more serious tone as he tuned the others out, “are you asking me to put on a shirt or are you commanding me to put on a shirt?”
In the area of discernment, one of the most common trends is the misunderstanding between God’s call and God’s command.
A sensible young woman in her late twenties, Joan came to me after a retreat I led some time ago. “Patrick, I finally know what my vocation is.”
“Well, that’s wonderful,” I began. But for some reason it felt like the wrong thing to say. “Isn’t that wonderful?” I corrected myself.
“Well yes and no. It’s wonderful that I know my vocation, but I have to admit, I am a little scared of it all.”
Now I was really intrigued. She sighed deeply and continued.
“I just know that marrying this guy is going to make me miserable.”
Miserable? Vocation? I’m sorry, what?
Your call from God, your vocation, to be married, or to live a consecrated single life, or be ordained into the priesthood—these are always invitations from the Lord. And when He invites— when He asks—the call is joyful, and quite frankly, hard to miss if you have a spiritual director or a friend who is in good spiritual shape advising you.
“Misery” should never be a word that you associate with your vocation. If you do, then something is wrong.
But that is only half of it.
While God continues to call us daily to our vocation, He also commands us.
The ancient Jews understood this well. The sun rises, the seasons come and go, and each new day begins because God commands it to. No, they were not denying how the world works, but they were affirming why the world works. And the why is His love.
So while the call is about what you could do, God’s command is about what you need to do. Do this to get to heaven. Don’t do this and you will stay on the safe and narrow path. Pray. Fast. Give alms.
But notice that it is God’s love that drives both calling and commandment. And it is the same with you and me.
Today, God is going to ask you but he is also going to tell you. He is going to call you but also command you.
Together, let’s practice hearing the difference and responding in loving obedience all the same.