Forest for the Trees

View from trail to Thunderbird Falls

View from Thunderbird Falls trail, north of Anchorage, Alaska

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, I spent a lot of time hiking.  I enjoy being outside, winding through forests and meadow, and usually being rewarded at the end of the hike with a panoramic view of God’s creation.  When you’re in the middle of the hike, at least in this part of the country, it’s often hard-going.  You’re pushing yourself to climb uphill.  Usually you can’t see very far in front of your current position.  Your scope and perspective is limited by the trees.  And if you’re not careful, you can succumb to all kinds of hazards along the way.

Sadly, it’s not uncommon to hear about people who go out for a hike and fall victim to those hazards.  They think they’ve found a shortcut, an easier way.  Only then the “trail” they thought they’d found disappears.  They begin to fight against the brush and thicket, slogging through mud and muck, searching for a way back.  Eventually, they either find their way out, or they are found by rescuers, hopefully alive.  And, inevitably, the local news shows aerial shots of where they were.  Often, they were not too far from a road or stream that could have led them to safety.  But they couldn’t find the lifeline in the forest for the trees around them.

We humans can do the same thing in life.  We face a situation, perhaps a goal we want to achieve or a problem we’re facing, and we put our heads down and shoulders into it.  But if we don’t stop and look up once in a while, to make sure we are still following the path laid out before us by Jesus, illumined by the Holy Spirit and following the directions given by the Church, we can unwittingly find ourselves wandering off course or tempted to follow “shortcuts”.  We are too close to the problem and then become bogged down in the mud and details.  We struggle and don’t rise up and see our way to the path we should be following, and to which Jesus beckons us.  After a time, the muck and trees become “normal” and comfortable.  Or we fall into another trap by thinking, “no, I can break this trail!” and refusing to give up our load and return to the path Jesus has already blazed for us.  Jesus has promised to not leave us and has given us Himself in the Eucharist and Holy Mother Church to strengthen and guide us; but we can choose leave Him.

Throughout Pope Benedict’s papacy, I was inspired by his teachings, particularly his insights into the Church and the world, as well as Vatican II, its context and what the Council envisioned and sought to accomplish.  Unfortunately, as Pope Benedict spoke about repeatedly, that message and vision was largely lost and the council of the media and its message took hold.  For many different reasons, we largely scattered and wandered off the path.

At the beginning of the Year of Faith, which we are currently still living, he challenged us to study the Scriptures, Church teaching and the documents of Vatican II.  He lovingly called us back to the right path.  Now, with Pope Francis, we see he is continuing to preach and call the Church to learn, embrace, and live the true vision of Vatican II.  It is a challenge to each and every Christian to consider what it means to be a Christian.  What does it mean to truly follow in the footsteps of Christ and His body and bride?

Looking at the saints, we see lives of beautiful simplicity and devotion – poverty in spirit, humility, true charity for neighbors with a bold living and proclamation of Truth – they could not help but live and proclaim the reason for the hope they had within.  They yielded themselves to the Holy Spirit and many produced beautiful and lasting works of literature, music, art, and architecture, which raised the minds and hearts of men, women, and children in right worship to God.  Even today, when we walk into a beautiful cathedral or chapel, or we see the works of Michelangelo or Fra Angelico, or we hear the resonant sound of chant and sweet refrains of a well-composed piece of sacred music, almost instinctively our eyes grow big in wonder, and our mouths drop in awe.

Others excelled in scientific, theological and philosophical studies, again, aimed at leading people to God and learning about the world around us He created.  Much of these works and theories laid the foundation in their respective fields of study for the work done today.  Still others dedicated themselves to full time apostolates and works of mercy – care of the sick, feeding the poor, tending prisoners – to reveal to other poor souls the dignity of the human person and to share with them the hope of eternity with God.  We have these dedicated men and women to thank for our schools, hospitals, and charities.

Looking around the church and world today, we must ask, are we still a people of faith?  Do we have hope within?  Are we bearing fruit?  Or are we like the fig tree Jesus cursed because it was green and lush with leaves, but had no fruit?

In my own life, like most of us, I too can zoom in at my own problems and trials and miss the forest for the trees.  My experience with discerning my religious vocation and subsequent work with The Labouré Society has forced me to take a hard look at some of these tendencies and practice taking one step after another, in faith, while raising my head to stay focused on my beloved, Jesus.  In the process, I have caught glimpses of a bigger picture, a vast panorama of humanity, God’s love, and my part in His work.

Some of the biggest blessings have come from the relationships that have been forged through this experience.  And through asking advice and listening to others, I’ve learned so much.  It’s been a humbling experience in so many ways.  But there is such simple freedom when we grow in humility.  Often, it takes someone from outside our present situation to shed new light on the solution, so long as we have a docility to listen.  I am eternally grateful for the staff and volunteers at TLS, for my accountability partner who each week helps me keep proper perspective on my goals and activities; and for those in the community who have embraced the mission of delivering vocations to the Church and have offered time, talent, and treasure to support TLS in my honor.  Though I still have so much more to learn on this journey, I am so grateful for those who have come alongside and offered their assistance and wisdom.

I have been blessed too by having so many opportunities to talk with many people who are excited about vocations.  I’ve been blessed to meet more and more young men and women who are also discerning, but no one knows of their discernment.  Sometimes they are afraid of the reaction they will receive from family and friends.  Sometimes, they just don’t know where to start and who to talk to about discerning a vocation.  Sometimes they have practical hurdles like student loans and they didn’t realize there is a way if God is calling them!

Others get excited about the opportunity to help foster vocations in a tangible way.  It’s hard sometimes to see how God answers our prayers, especially when we, as a Church, pray for something so “large” like an increase in vocations.  But when people learn there is a real hurdle to these vocations we’ve been praying for and there is something they can do about it, they are challenged and excited to help!

There is even grace to be found in the rejections and lukewarm responses.  Time and again, God reminds me, I am His and my vocation belongs to Him and the Church.  He will provide, but I must remain faithful in knocking on doors and extending the invitation.  Christ was rejected by people since before His birth until the time of His death, and even to the present day, so why should I be surprised when I too face a slammed door or an indifferent, “No”?

A couple weeks ago, on Divine Mercy Sunday, we reached our halfway mark in the TLS class term.  We now have 74 days left for the current TLS class.  74 days to meet our fundraising goals.  When I started this class term, my hope and prayer was to exceed the TLS fundraising goal of $45,000 and at least double what was donated in my honor during the Winter class by raising $65,000.  This is still possible!

If you haven’t already, please prayerfully consider including The Labouré Society in your charitable giving for 2013.  I invite you to join in friendship with TLS through offering your time, talent or treasure, either individually or by joining together with your local parish or organization members.  Please click the “Donation” button to the right, and then send a quick e-mail to five friends inviting them to do the same.  All donations are tax deductible and your contribution could mean the difference of delivering one more vocation to formation this year!  Thank you and God bless.

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