Myth #5: God calls us to success.
This is another very common myth, but before I continue, it might be helpful if I were to offer a slight clarification. God most definitely desires to see us fulfill our vocation – that unique path by which we will come to know, love, and serve Him (see part 1 of this series
). But His idea of what that looks like and our idea often differ significantly. God’s idea of fulfilling one’s vocation is that which will lead to greatest holiness and eternity with Him in heaven. Our idea is often more earthbound.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways – oracle of the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Is 55:8-9
This misconception manifests itself predominantly in two ways.
The first way is often referred to as the “health and wealth Gospel”
or the “prosperity Gospel”
– an understanding that is pretty common among Christians that if they believe in Jesus and live basically inoffensive lives, God will bless them materially, even that God owes them for their faithfulness.
However, this belief is entirely unscriptural. Nowhere does Jesus promise his disciples material wealth. In fact, his promises are rather daunting and might make one think twice about becoming a Christian.
In Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, Jesus declares:
“‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.’” Lk 6:22-23
And then he follows that up in the very next verse with:
“‘But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.’” Lk 6:24
And don’t forget what Jesus tells his disciples in the 9th chapter of Luke:
“‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’” Lk 9: 23-24
And then there’s the whole witness of Jesus’ mission on earth: to suffer and die for our sins
. That doesn’t sound like a “health and wealth Gospel” to me. That sounds more like what Pope John Paul II called the “Gospel of suffering”
in his 1984 apostolic letter Salvifici doloris
“The Gospel of suffering signifies not only the presence of suffering in the Gospel, as one of the themes of the Good News, but also the revelation of the salvific power and the salvific significance of suffering in Christ’s messianic mission and, subsequently, in the mission and vocation of the Church.”
But what impact does that have on vocational discernment?
As we discussed in part 3
, vocational discernment is a continuous, lifelong activity. Many people, when they encounter challenges and suffering in their lives, especially in connection with certain life choices, can often feel frustrated and become convinced that they are not where God has called them to be.
Any parent or teacher knows that the surest path to growth and maturity involves challenges and struggle. We understand and accept that the training of our bodies also requires effort and discomfort. After all, “no pain, no gain”
. But somehow, when it involves our souls, we think things should be different. But pain – in its many and varied forms – is not only an inescapable part of human existence but it also has a way of drawing us closer to God, if we let it.
Many spiritual writers insist that trials and suffering are even a sign of God’s favour.
That’s about as far as you can get from a “health and wealth” understanding of the Gospel!
It is easy to get discouraged when faced with life’s difficulties and to wonder if we are really going the right way. But remember the words of St. Paul to the Christian community in Corinth:
“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.’ Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” 1 Cor 1:18-25
God’s triumph looks like failure from a worldly perspective. Trust in God, and when in doubt, speak to a trusted spiritual guide.
But let’s move on to the second way this myth affects vocational discernment.
How often have you heard someone say, “This must be a sign that God doesn’t want me to do this,” when confronting seemingly insurmountable obstacles? Of course, as we discussed last week (see part 4
), God sometimes chooses to speak to us through our circumstances and guides us by opening and closing doors. But sometimes we use these words too flippantly – as an excuse to take the path of least resistance
rather than in humble acceptance of God’s will. After all, the devil is also at times granted the ability to throw obstacles in our path, and then we know we should try to do the opposite of what he wants us to do.
But how do we discern the difference?
This is where the help of a spiritual director becomes invaluable (see part 2
). St. Ignatius of Loyola
gave us some very helpful rules for discernment, and there is plenty of literature out there to help us understand these rules. I would recommend, for example, The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV
Or for an introduction to Ignatian discernment and what that means, there is a rather good and entertaining article called “Discernment: the good, the bad…the Ignatian”
But even people who are experienced at discernment need the help of outside eyes and ears and the wisdom of a good spiritual director who can accompany them along the way, especially when it involves major life choices.
There are many, many example of holy men and women who have encountered obstacles along the way to fulfilling the mission to which God called them.
Here is the story of one such man who refused to take the path of least resistance.
I hope it will inspire you as much as it inspired me.
Stanley Rother was born in 1935 in Okarche, Oklahoma, where he was raised on a farm with his three younger siblings. After high school, feeling called to the priesthood, he entered the seminary, but he struggled academically, especially with mastering the Latin language – a requirement for priests in that era before the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council.
After several years, the seminary asked him to leave. But his bishop clearly saw this young man’s potential because he sent him to a different seminary and, in 1963, ordained him to the priesthood.
After serving for five years in Oklahoma, Fr. Stanley Rother left for Guatemala to become part of his diocese’s mission in Santiago Atitlan and began working with the Tz’utujil, a native tribe of the region. Living among the people of this poor farming community, Fr. Rother put his farming past to good use, and despite his previous problems with learning a foreign language, he not only learned to speak Spanish and the native Tz’utujil language, but he even helped to translate the New Testament into Tz’utujil.
While Fr. Rother served at the mission, Guatemala was in the grips of a civil war being fought between the government and guerrilla forces who supported greater rights for the indigenous population and for the rural poor. Fr. Rother and the mission were suspect for their work among the indigenous poor. The community experienced the brutality of disappearances, torture, and deaths, and Fr. Rother himself witnessed at least one kidnapping.
When Fr. Rother’s name appeared on a hit list after he was accused of inciting an overthrow of the government, he returned to Oklahoma for his safety, but only a few months later, he asked for permission to go back to his people at the mission. He had famously written in 1980: “The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.” His place was with his people, and he knew it.
On July 28, 1981, in the dead of night, three armed men entered the rectory at Santiago Atitlan. Fr. Rother fought with his would-be kidnappers, shouting, “Kill me here!” When they realized that they could not take him alive, they did just that, shooting him twice in the head. Although Fr. Rother’s body was returned to his diocese in Oklahoma, his heart stayed with his beloved people of the mission at Santiago Atitlan, being buried behind the altar.
His life of love and courageous service has been an inspiration to people in Guatemala and in the United States, and on September 23, 2017, he was beatified during a ceremony in Oklahoma City and declared a martyr – the first US-born martyr officially recognized by the Catholic Church.
When I hear this story and so many others like it, I can’t help asking: what if?
this young man from Oklahoma had not persisted in his vocation to the priesthood?
he had not obeyed the overwhelming need to be with his people in Guatemala despite the obvious danger?
I find the courage to go where God calls me?
And what if you do, too?