Sister Joan Chittister, in her book, “Called to Question,” highlighted the active process of the Spiritual life. She said, “The Spiritual life is the discovery of the self God meant us to be so that we are God’s gift to the rest of the world.” For a Catholic educator, the first image that comes to mind is assisting adolescents to begin that process of self-discovery. At the high school, so many times a parent would bring his/her child to me asking me to assist him/her plan a career in science, engineering, or medicine. 

Sometime later I would meet individually with that student. When I asked if he/she wished such a career in science, so many times the answer was a bowed head. I knew then my job was to offer the more important question: “What do you wish to do with your life?” So many times the student said, “I do not know. I’ve never been allowed to choose before.” Quite often that was followed by a smile with the student’s realization of a whole new world opening to him/her.

As I write this I am sitting at a special table in a good friend’s home. Locked under a glass sheet, the table’s surface is covered with photographs of her three boys. One picture has my attention today. This picture depicts the middle child holding his 11-hour-old brother in his arms. 

Today, 18 years later, that photograph still brings a smile to my face. I remember that day and the night before. I was babysitting so that my friend and her husband could be together in the delivery room. The boy, who until that night had been the youngest in the family, was so excited about getting a younger sibling that he would not go to bed. Finally, instead of a bedtime story, we had a long chat about the fun and responsibility of being an older brother. 

As you may have surmised, the youngest boy just graduated from high school. His older brother (middle son) is in the process of choosing a graduate school. The high school graduate is at the beginning of the self-discovery process. He has chosen what he thinks he would like to study and do. In the fall, he will begin the work necessary to prepare for that career. His older brother is further along in this process. He has not only discovered, but has verified his talents through actions. He is now seeking his own creative, unique way to use those gifts in service of God to better our world. 

This graduate student is Moslem. His faith has a similar tradition to Jesus’ Words on the Greatest Commandment (Matt. 22:36-40). From the Quran (Verse 4:36): “Worship God and consider no one equal to Him. Be kind and do good unto your parents, relatives, orphans, the destitute, your near and distant neighbors, your companions, and wayfarers.” He is considering a career in international law. I believe his idea for change is through discussions and new laws to encourage all of us to live together more peacefully. In this way, each of us more fully lives the Greatest Commandment which is written on the heart of each and every human being. That vision and the work he will bring to it throughout his life is his gift by which he will seek to bring God’s love to the world. 

An important characteristic of the Spiritual life is that reflection, choice and action are not one-time events. Some of us may have had a career chosen for us. Others may one day realize their initial choice, as a young adult, does not fully resonate with the person they have grown to be. Thankfully, through the dialog of prayer, we each are invited to refine our actions or even start out on a new path. Throughout one’s life, one is open to many such metamorphoses. Such modifications serve to bring one closer to God. An excellent example of this is Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was a middle-aged Sister of the order of the Loreto Sisters of Dublin when she understood God’s call for her to found a new order. By her death in 1997, that new order of the Missionaries of Charity had more than 4,000 religious serving the poor in 123 countries. Can you imagine how different our world might be had Blessed Mother Teresa not responded to the call of the Holy Spirit? 

This week let us be energized by the dreams and enthusiasm of the young. Over this, let us apply our life’s expertise and wisdom. Let us each find one area where we can choose to better use or even develop new gifts/talents to share with others. This will allow us to serve God by being good shepherds to those God places directly in our care and those God allows to simply cross our paths. 

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer and a member of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River.

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