God Has Planned Our Lives
By Father Richard Felix, O.S.B.
God knows all things. God can do all things. Everything God does is done for a special purpose. God has made each of us to do for Him a special work in life. And with the help of God’s grace, we can do what God wants us to do.
Doing God’s work according to God’s Will, we are serving Him best and pleasing Him most. And thus we gain for ourselves sanctifying grace on earth and happiness and glory forever in Heaven.
The word vocation means “a calling.” It is usually taken to signify a special call from God to do a special religious work in life, but in a wider sense, it means simply a call from God to serve Him in some state of life.
Strictly speaking, there are only two states of life, the married state and the unmarried; and two vocations, the Priesthood and the Religious life. But in a general way, we speak of four states or vocations. These are the unmarried state in the world, the married state, the religious state, and the Priesthood. To one of these states, God calls each of us. That state is best for us in which we can best honor God and save our own soul. And each of us may obtain from Him by praying, assisting at Mass, receiving the sacraments, and attending other services, all that we need to live and do God’s work in the state of life to which He has called us.
Speaking of our vocation, Saint Paul said: “Each one has his own gift from God, one in this way and another in that. As God has called each, so let him walk. Let each man remain in the calling in which he was called” (cf. 1 Cor. c. 7).
It is God who chooses the state of life in which He wishes each one to serve Him. God directs us to the state in which He wishes us to serve and honor Him by the desires He puts into our hearts, by the counsel and advice of those whom He has placed over and around us, by the health and talent He has given us and by the opportunities He causes to come our way. And God gives to each one who does His will all that is needed to serve Him well and gain Heaven.
We should try to know clearly what the four states of life are. We should ask God often in prayer to which state of life He has called us. And when God makes known our vocation to us, we should follow it without fail. This we cannot do without God’s special grace. But if we keep in the state of grace and serve Him as best we can, He will give this special grace to us.
The Four States of Life
The four states of life are: the unmarried state in the world, the married state, the religious state, and the Priesthood. Each of us should live in the state of life to which God has called us.
Whom does God call to live in the unmarried state in the world? To this state of life, God calls those who are not yet old enough for marriage, those who are unfitted for it, and those who think they can please God more and serve Him better in the single state in the world. Such a life, if lived in purity and in obedience to God’s Will, may be even holier than marriage.
Whom does God call to live in the state of marriage: To live in this state, God calls by far the greater number of grown up people. Unless one is clearly called to one of the other states, every man and woman should consider the married state to be his or her vocation in life. Since the vocation of marriage comes from God, it should be followed as the direct will of God in our regard.
Whom does God call to the religious state? More perfect than married life, or even the life of virginity in the world, is the state of religion. Christ does not command, but He asks a chosen few to live for Him in this state of life. He does this so that they may be holier and more useful in His Church on earth and happier and more glorious in Heaven.
How do we follow the call of Christ to enter the religious state? We do this by becoming member of some Religious Order or Congregation. And when we do this, we give up or leave for the sake of Christ all that would interfere with our love and service of Him. More than this, we bind ourselves by vow to live in the religious state a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
As a reward for this sacrifice made for Jesus by religious, He has promised: “Every one who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake, shall receive a hundred fold, and shall possess life everlasting” (Matt. 19, 29). Jesus is God; He always keeps His promise.
Whom does Christ call to His Priesthood? Of the Priesthood, Saint Paul said: “God has made us fit ministers of the New Covenant” (II Cor. 3, 6): “We preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ Our Lord” (II Cor. 4, 5): “Every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in the things of God, that he may offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. And no man takes the honor to himself. He takes it who was called by God as Aaron was” (cf. Hebr. c. 5). No one should enter the Priesthood, unless God has chosen and called him to be a Priest.
Jesus has said to His Priests: “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and have appointed you that you should go forth and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15, 16). For His Priests, Jesus prayed: “Holy Father, I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Keep them from evil. Sanctify them in truth. Even as Thou hast sent Me into the world, so I also have sent them into the world” (cf. John c. 17).
To those whom Christ has called to become His Priests, He gives a special vocation. He knows just what work is to be done in His Church, and He prepares and calls certain persons to do this work for Him. He calls those only to the Priesthood whom He has chosen to help Him with His special work. And these chosen ones, if they do His will as best they can, receive the graces and powers needed to enable them to live as His Priests and do the work of His Priesthood. Christ is with them always, urging, directing, and helping them, and making them successful.
God has a great plan and a great work to be done by each and every one who lives on earth. Each one of us has a part in God’s great plan and work. By study and prayer, we should find out what that part is. And then by work and prayer, we should do it. We can do it best by living in the state of life to which God has called us. Thus we prove our love for God, and serve Him on earth and gain Heaven with its happiness and glory.
The Work of Those in Religion
Catholic men and women enter the state of religion so that they may give themselves and their time entirely to the work of Christ in His Church. Of this work, there are many kinds. Chief among them is the work in the convent or monastery of praying for others, of caring for orphans and the homeless, of helping those who are ill, of teaching the young in schools and colleges, and of assisting in the missionary works of the Church.
When a young woman (or man) is planning to enter the religious state of life, she finds out what kind of work God wishes her to do in this state. She knows He does not wish her to engage in work for which she is not fitted or cannot fit herself. So she chooses for herself work which she will be able to do.
To some, God has given the will and grace to spend their lives in prayerful worship. Others, God has gifted to care for children in a motherly way, or to relieve suffering and bring health to the sick as skilled nurses, or to instruct the young in the schools as Christian teachers.
To every one, God has given a special gift for doing some special work. While planning on entering the convent, the young woman remembers all this. She keeps clearly in mind the words of St. James: “Every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights” (James 1, 17). When God by His gifts makes us able to do some special work in His Church, it is natural to suppose that He wishes us to do that work for Him.
As soon as we are sure God has called us to enter the religious state and do a certain work for Him, we should follow the call as soon as we can. We should fit ourselves to undertake this work as we believe He wants it to be done.
Saint Paul was not always a Christian. Jesus called him by a special vocation to become His follower, Priest, and Apostle. As soon as Paul heard Him calling, he asked: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me do?” Everyone who has a real vocation to the religious life asks the same question. But before they follow what they believe their vocation, they should go to their confessor or to their pastor and seek guidance and advice.
Perhaps you believe God has called you to enter the religious state. Your confessor or your pastor encourages you in the thought. You believe that God by His gifts has enabled you to fit yourself to do a certain kind of work in the Church, and that He is calling you to do it for Him. You ask Him in prayer to assist you; then you write to, or call on, the Superior of the Religious Order or Congregation which you decide to enter.
If you are accepted for entrance, you go there at the time appointed. There you prove that you are willing and able to fit yourself for the religious life and its work. First, usually for about six months, you pray and study and work under obedience as a Postulant. The word, “postulant” means one who asks to enter the religious state of life. After this for a year or sometimes two, you are a Novice. The word “novice” means a beginner, one who enters a convent or monastery on trial. These years are spent in prayer and study and work. Then, having proven yourself worthy, you are allowed to take the vows and become a member of the Religious Order or Congregation. The call of the Religious Superiors, that is, their permission for you to take the vows, is your vocation to the religious life.
So you see, it is all very simple. Your vocation to the religious life depends both on you and on God.
God invites you, saying: “If thou wilt, come follow Me.” He leaves it to your will and wish.
If you decide to follow Him in the more perfect way, you then present yourself to the religious Order or Congregation you select, and say: “Here, I am. Please give me a chance to dedicate my whole life to God in the work of your holy company.” The religious Superior will then inquire about your health, your talents, your freedom to enter the religious life, and your motives and then admit you as a candidate for vows. If you are found worthy during the period of probation, then God confirms your vocation by calling you to the vows.
But how does God call you to the vows? God calls you through His Church; He speaks to you through the lawful Superiors of that Order or Congregation where you made your novitiate. They exercise God’s authority; they speak in His name. “He who hears you, hears Me.”
Vocation to the Priesthood
What is a vocation to the Priesthood? It is a call from Christ to come and follow Him and become His Priest and help Him in the priestly work of His Church. This work is chiefly: celebrating Mass, administering the Sacraments, giving the blessings of the Church, and preaching the Gospel, and thereby helping other people to gain Heaven.
Christ Himself called His first twelve Apostles and Priests. Ever since that time, He has been calling boys and young men to the Priesthood. Christ is God. So this vocation to the Priesthood comes from God. It always has, and it always will come from God. In one way or another, He calls to the Priesthood all those young men whom He has chosen. Without this call, there is no vocation.
How did Jesus call His Apostles to the Priesthood? Did He do this with, or without, the help of others? In most cases, He had others helping Him, or at least preparing for the life and work of the Priesthood those who were to be called. One of His helpers was Saint John the Baptist.
The chief work of John the Baptist was to tell the people about Jesus and prepare them to follow Him. He was preaching at the River Jordan. Among those who listened to him, were some young men. John was telling them about some of the wonderful things which the Promised Redeemer would do.
Then a Man, dressed like other men of his time, was seen walking by. John the Baptist saw this Man, and knew that He was the Promised Redeemer. He said to the people: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This is He of whom I spoke” (John 1, 29).
Two young men, John and Andrew, heard these words. They went to Jesus to learn who He was and what He was going to do. They loved Him and became His Apostles. John the Baptist had prepared them for this, and led them to it. In like manner, Jesus chose the other Apostles. After they were prepared with the help of others, He said to each of them: “Come, follow Me.”
First, Jesus called the young men to be His Apostles. Then, He taught and trained them month after month until they were able to help Him with His work. Jesus is still calling to the Priesthood those whom He chooses, and training them with the help of others. It is true, He is seen no longer walking among men as a man. But He is still with them. He is with them in company with God the Holy Spirit. And He is with them as the Risen Savior, as the High Priest of His Church; He is with them personally in the Holy Eucharist. He is still calling those whom He chooses to be His Priests.
God knows all things. He plans all things according to His own will. If we have a vocation to the Priesthood, God knew this before we came into the world. And He gave us the desire, talent, health, parents, and all else that we would need to follow our vocation. At first we may not know we have a vocation to the Priesthood. But at the proper time, God makes it known to us, sometimes suddenly, more often slowly and by degrees.
Before Saint Paul was a Christian, he never even dreamed that he would be a Priest in Christ’s Church. He persecuted the Church which Christ founded. In so doing, he believed he was pleasing God, for he thought that the Jewish religion was still God’s one true Church. Suddenly, Jesus by a miracle struck him with blindness and spoke to him. At once Paul became a Christian, and then an Apostle and Priest.
Some boys and young men learn of their vocation to the Priesthood suddenly. But most of them learn of it slowly. Day by day, it becomes clearer to them what God would have them do. A priest, a religious, a sermon, a book, a friend, or something else, inspires them with the thought that they have a vocation, or to be more sure of it. First, they may be in doubt; then they are almost sure; and then they become certain that Jesus is calling them, saying to them: “Come, and follow Me as a Priest.”
God has placed each of us on earth to do a special work for Him. As soon as we come to the use of reason, we should begin praying and studying to find out what that work is; then we must fit ourselves to do that work well.
If we think Christ is calling us to be a Priest in the diocesan Priesthood or to the Priesthood in the religious life, we should do all we can to make certain of it. We should pray fervently and consider whether we have the necessary health and strength, and whether we can be taught and trained to do the work of the Priesthood well. We must see to it that we keep from mortal sin and spare no effort to keep from all venial sin also. We must resolve to become a Priest not for any earthly pleasure or profit, but solely to help Christ in His Church, saving people from hell, helping them to Heaven, and making them holier and happier. And while we thus plan to be a Priest, we should be living, as well as we can, the life of the Priesthood.
The Bishop Decides All Vocations To the Priesthood
Not every desire to become a Priest comes from God. Some boys admire the work of the Priesthood and wish in a way or for a time to become Priests. But in reality they are not fitted for the life of a Priest. After a while they forget about their imaginary vocation. But some of them linger on in doubt. They cannot decide for themselves, and they are not satisfied with the advice of their pastor, or confessor, or parents, or friends. They may even enter the seminary in an uncertain state of mind. Who is to tell them with certainty whether their vocation is real or not?
These young men offer themselves to the Church to become its Priests. It remains for the Church to tell them whether or not God is calling them to the Priesthood. Who does this for the Church? It is done by the Bishop of the diocese for which the young man is to be ordained or by the Superior of the religious house which the candidate for the Priesthood desires to enter. If the Bishop decides that the vocation is real, he confirms the call of God by giving the young man the call of the Church. And this call is his vocation.
When boys enter High School, they should have at least some idea of the special work which God desires them to do during life. If they feel God wants them to be Priests, they should pray more fervently than ever and study as well as they can those things which will help them in the work of the Priesthood.
To prepare for the Priesthood, they will have twelve years of training; four in High School, and eight years in College and Seminary. During these years they prepare themselves for the work of the Priesthood. At last, the happy day comes. They receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Then God marks them as His Priests forever, and pledges to give them all the power and grace needed to live the life of a Priest and to do the sacred work of the Priesthood.
A Vocation To The Priesthood May be Lost
Many boys and young men have a real vocation to the Priesthood. They may know this clearly, or only in a dim and doubtful manner. But they can lose it. How can they lose it? Some of them lose it by neglecting to pray, to assist at Mass, to go to the Sacraments, and to attend other services in Church as often or as well as they ought.
Others lose it by not avoiding as they should persons, places, books, papers and magazines, shows, dances, and other things which lead them away from the love and service of God into ways that are careless if not sinful. And others lose it by neglecting to keep in good health, to train themselves for their future work, and to study as they ought, to get the knowledge required.
Also, not a few lose their vocation to the Priesthood because they are the children of parents who are poor. They forget that when God gave the vocation, He planned they should receive all that they would need to reach that goal provided they trusted Him and did their part. So instead of finding out how much would be required to pay for their educations, and how this money could be obtained, they just give up the idea as impossible and thus fail to follow what was meant to be their vocation.
Such boys and young men could have followed their vocation and done great work for God merely by going to their pastor and talking the matter over with him. The pastor would have arranged with the parents or with others, or perhaps have defrayed most of the expenses himself. Or perhaps he would have directed the one whom God was calling to some Religious Order or Congregation. If this were done, little money would be needed, and in most cases the vocation would not be lost.
Then again there are many boys who have never had an opportunity to attend a Catholic school or college and feel that one who has gone only to a public school has no chance to go on to the Priesthood. The writer of these lines was himself a poor boy who never had an opportunity to attend a Catholic school, nor was this the fault of his good parents. He lived in a rural community where at that time there was no Catholic grade or high school. Thousands of boys who would make wonderful Priests graduate every year from our Public grade and high schools. If you are such a lad, and if God gives you the desire to become a Priest, do go and talk it over with your pastor or write to one of our Religious Orders. You will be happy to see how eager they will be to help you.
The same holds good for the thousands of fine Catholic girls who graduate year after year from our public schools. They could do wonderful work for God in the religious state. Talk it over, girls, with any Priest or Sister.
Suppose you are just entering High School. You feel quite sure that God is calling you to the Priesthood. Of course, if you could, you would go to a Catholic school. You would choose for yourself a course of study, which would serve to prepare you best for the work of a Priest. You would study hard, so that each day your lessons would be well learned.
After you had finished your high school course, you would apply to enter a Religious Order or a Minor Seminary. In the classroom, you would try to be a good student. And during times of rest and play, you would endeavor to be agreeable and happy with all. And living thus, you would grow up to be a manly man, and a priestly Priest, pleasing to good people on earth and to the Angels and Saints and to Jesus with the Father and the Holy Ghost in Heaven.
The Duties of the Priest
Did you ever think about becoming a Priest? If so, one of your first thoughts was: What are the duties of a Priest? You knew that unless you found joys in the duties of the Priesthood, you could not be happy. And you knew that you could not do your best work for Christ, unless you were happy while doing it.
You will find great joy in prayer. The life of a good Priest is a life full of prayer. He says now and then during the day and night the prayers which all other good Catholics say. In addition to these, he prays the liturgical prayers of the Church. Each day he celebrates Mass and says the Divine Office. While saying the Office, he studies in prayer the Bible for fully an hour a day. Then while administering the Sacraments and conducting other services, he says many other prayers in the name of the Church.
Assisting at Mass fills your heart with peace and happiness. Each morning the Priest celebrates the Holy Sacrifice. In preparation for this sublime act of worship, he spends some time in prayer; and after the Holy Sacrifice, he again spends considerable time thanking God. Thus in prayer and Sacrifice, he spends another hour each day.
Receiving the Sacrament of Penance brings peace and joy to you. Each week the Priest usually spends hours in the confessional. One after another, repenting sinners come and get God’s forgiveness of their sins. Then they go away holy and happy, resolving never to sin again.
Your heart is thrilled with the joy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus every time you receive Him in Holy Communion. The Priest brings Jesus from the altar, and under the form of bread, places Him on your tongue in Holy Communion; and you receive Him into your body and soul. For a few moments, the Risen Jesus lives in you as in a living temple; and then as God, He continues to remain with you.
You delight to tell others about Jesus and to explain His Gospel to them. Every day the Priest is engaged in this work. He does it while speaking with others. He does it while instructing those who come to him and wish to become Catholics. He does it while preparing children and older people for receiving the Sacraments. And he does it while preaching or giving instructions at Mass and other services.
So day after day until death, the Priest spends most of his time doing the work and attending to the worship of God in His Church. You, too, would be very happy doing God’s work.
Jesus is “a High Priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech”; pray for the day when by receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders you can be made and marked His faithful Priest forever.
Prayer to Know One’s Vocation
O Almighty and Eternal God, who hast sent me into this world to love and serve Thee, direct me now in the choice of my state of life. Let Thy Holy Spirit be my light and my guide and make my vocation known to me.
O Almighty God! Whose wise and amiable Providence watches over every human event, deign to be my light and my counsel in all my undertakings, particularly in the choice of a state of life. I know that on this important step my sanctification and salvation may in a great measure depend. I know that I am incapable of discerning what may be best for me; therefore, I cast myself into Thy arms, beseeching Thee, my God, Who hast sent me into this world only to love and serve Thee, to direct by Thy grace every moment and action of my life to the glorious end of my creation. I wish to fulfill Thy designs on my soul, whatever they may be; and I beseech Thee to give me the grace, by imbibing the true spirit of a Christian, to qualify myself for any state of life to which Thy adorable Providence may call me. O my God! Whenever it may become my duty to make a choice, do Thou be my light and my counsel, and mercifully deign to make the way known to me wherein I should walk, for I have lifted up my soul to Thee. Preserve me from listening to the suggestions of my own self-love, or worldly prudence, in prejudice to Thy holy inspirations. Let Thy good Spirit lead me into the right way, and let Thy adorable Providence place me, not where I may naturally feel inclined to go, but where all things may be most conductive to Thy glory and to the good of my soul.
Mary, Mother of Good Counsel, Seat of Wisdom, Help of Christians, pray for me.
–From an Approved Source.