‘Floundering’ is a word that is sometimes used to describe arts students, and unfortunately, I didn’t exactly dispel the stereotype. When I completed my liberal arts degree, for a long time I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go in life, what I wanted to do.
After graduating, I remained in Sydney for a while and explored a few options, but when interest in them faded, I found myself at a loose end, at least as far as my ‘career’ was concerned. Had I invested in some kind of strategy or vision for the future, I may have saved myself a lot of trouble; that said, a lot of the best things that happened to me—including meeting my wife—came about while I was improvising. Even if I could go back and do it again, I wouldn’t want to change the course of events that led me to her.
Nevertheless, having a vision is important. Even if we can’t work out what we want to do, having a vision of who we want to be is vital. If we don’t develop that vision, it will be developed for us without us noticing, and not always by the influences we would want. Human beings are imitative creatures: the people we surround ourselves with, the role models we admire, the media we consume, all shape us in conscious and subconscious ways.
It’s interesting that a lot of our metaphors for life involve some kind of movement: life is a journey, a pilgrimage, a race, an adventure. But what all of these forms of movement have in common is the need for some kind of vision or destination that makes sense of the movement. We can’t access the full potential of a GPS unless we input a destination; Frodo, in The Lord of the Rings, didn’t leave Rivendell without knowing the goal was Mordor. He needed to adapt, react and respond to changing circumstances along the way, but who he needed to be for that quest to succeed was clear for most of the journey.
For all of my aimlessness, there was one thing I knew throughout that time: God was calling me to be a father. In this sense, vision and vocation went hand in hand.
I had previously explored a possible calling to the priesthood, but during a silent retreat at the end of my first year of discernment, it all became abundantly clear. During that retreat, God revealed himself to me: the words spoken to Jesus in baptism—‘This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17)—were spoken to me. In a whole new way, I experienced what it meant to call God a father. I felt it. And this ‘revelation’ left me in a daze. It was an intensely emotional experience, to know the love of God the Father like that—to get a glimpse of it.
At the end of the retreat, I read a line from St Ignatius of Loyola, and although I have never been able to find it again, it said something along the lines of: ‘Look back over everything God has revealed to you during this retreat. If you were only a reasonable man, how would you respond?’
In that moment, my vocation became clear. If I were only a reasonable man, I would respond by being a father, and not just in the spiritual sense. I would be the kind of father who strove to reflect, in my own inadequate way, the love of God the Father.
What was so interesting is that this calling to fatherhood was not a calling as I had previously understood it. There was no voice telling me what to do. What I had discovered was a deep desire to respond to God’s love, and in that lay my vocation.
Fr Dishan Candappa’s advice for those discerning a vocation gets to this point. It all ‘depends on how much you want to give God.’ Vocation is not just about listening for what God wants us to do. Some people experience it this way, but not everyone. It is also about discovering how we are going to respond to God with who we are. Vision and vocation go hand in hand.
What it means to be a father is an ongoing journey of discovery, but one that is guided by a vision; there’s a why that directs my steps. Wherever the journey takes me, there will always be that underlying vision of who I need to be for my children.
There are many techniques and strategies for developing a vision for our future, for growing in different aspects of our lives. Countless internet gurus can give us ‘hacks’ that may help us improve our health, fitness and career. But learning who we want to be—how we might respond to God’s love and reflect it in our whole being—is the most important part of developing a vision, one that will undergird everything else in life. And if we focus on that, we may well discover our vocation too.
Fiona Basile04 August 2023
Christian Bergmann03 May 2023