The Jonah Complex: A Force to be Reckoned 

What is a vocation? It is the place God calls us donate ourselves toward something larger than ourselves. In the words of St. John Paul the Great, it is “total self gift.” How do we find the place where we give the most and receive the most in return? We must take time to discern, that is to prayerfully weigh the greatest decision of our lives. Should we fail to take the time to discover our vocation, then the currents of life will inevitably decide for us. And this is where Jonah gives us a great life lesson.
Jonah ran from his vocation, all the way to Tarshish. He felt resistance which is not necessarily a bad thing. Resistance can indicate a very important life transition. Jonah had a vocation and call to be a prophet in Nineveh so he ran 180 degrees in the opposite direction, as far west as he could go. Jonah was sleeping in the belly of the boat bound for Tarshish while all those around him were in chaos. The captain and crew of the boat were in turmoil. (Jonah 1:3-5) Our failure to follow our vocation can bring turmoil upon ourselves and others around us. We can put off this great calling from God, but a higher calling toward a vocation is not something to be ignored.
There is a great scene in the movie “Star Wars: the Force Awakens” when the protagonist Rey first touches the lightsaber and has a scary flashback. Rey who is a natural when compared to other Jedi Knights senses a mission that is larger than herself. A prophetic woman named Maz Kanata wants Rey to follow her true calling and pick up the lightsaber. Rey is reluctant and resists her call and flees to an evergreen forest. But this vocational calling is too big to flee, and her new friend Finn rescues her with the same lightsaber in hand, and gives her the encouragement to follower her “destiny.” The secret message to pursue a vocation is … we can’t do it alone, often we rely upon our friends and family to push us and guide us through difficult decisions.


When we take the easy option it is rarely the right choice. The comfortable path lures us into the “lazy boy” Gospel and we nap through challenges in our comfy easy chair. The Gospel of Christ is one of discomfort. There is nothing comfortable about carrying a cross. It requires us to confront our resistance, to freely give ourselves away, and to pick up a cross custom made for our shoulders. Jesus encourages us to follow our vocation, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:30) and with our free will we pick it up and carry it. To follow Christ is not a Gospel of easiness, it is a Gospel of queasiness. It is that nervous tightness in our throat or tickle in our belly that makes a person unsettled, queasy, and afraid to go out and act. Your vocation moves you toward the challenging path, not the easy path. We know in the depths of our hearts that our vocation is the place we will gain the most, and potentially risk the most, and have the most at stake. St Paul taught us this on the road to Damascus, St Francis of Assisi taught us this when he prayed before the crucifix, St Clare of Assisi taught us this through her tenacious hold to absolute poverty in order to govern her religious community of nuns.

Your vocation is the one thing that will challenge the most of you, it will demand all the courage you can muster, and it will also pay out the greatest rewards. Affirmations surface in the form of joy and peace that fill a seeker’s heart, these are signs that you have found your vocation. If you have bitterness and resentment, these are signs that God may have something else in store for you. Where has God led you today? What holds the greatest joy for you? What produces the greatest sense of fulfillment and excitement? I tell you this is where your vocation lies and where God calls you today. Do not let the easy chair Gospel lull you into a lazy snooze, today is time to pursue our God-driven vocation. Jonah sailed away on a ship bound for Tarshish and God brought him back to the shores of Nineveh for a do-over. We are all traveling on a providential ship bound for our holy vocation. We can settle in a belly of a ship of our own making, or in the belly of a fish of God’s own making. Which way is your vessel traveling, towards God or away?

Time to Practice Swimming, unlike Narcissus

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Narcissus was a handsome hunter who knew he was handsome and would show disdain for people who recognized him. He was proud and haughty, if you loved him then he responded with nothing but dislike for you. Narcissus was enticed by Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, to gaze into the pool’s reflection, whereby he fell in love with his own reflection. Nemesis was seeking revenge for jilted Echo, a beautiful goddess who was despised and rejected at every turn. Narcissus could not take his eyes off himself, leaning closer and closer toward his own reflection, he fell into the water and drowned. Narcissism means to have an unhealthy fixation with oneself. What are the things that captivate you and fixate your attention?

In March I enjoyed a homily by Bishop Jospeh Cistone of Saginaw, MI who uncovered the narcissistic tendencies of our culture to fixate on individualism and the popular philosophy to “go it alone.” One example is the tragic story of Chris McCandless a 24 year-old who broke ties with family, friends, and society to survive solo in the wilds of Alaska with no safety net. Jon Krakauer wrote a book about his adventures called “Into the Wild” that details his journey from the Ivy league to Denali National Park. McCandless did himself in with his narcissistic myopia when he ate wild potato potato seeds that later caused paralysis and the inability to save himself. I listened to Bishop Cistone speak about the chronic levels of narcissistic individualism that paralyze our own culture. We have a strong chord of individualism that pushes the human person toward selfish pursuits rather than seek out community support. I watched a couple venture out to dinner who were sitting with 2 laptops, 2 cell phones, and completely disengaged from each other across the table. We have so much screen to screen communication these days that our person to person communication is deprived of minimal human interaction. We now have resources available to answer every question on the internet that only requires a pocket sized gadget. People delight in their own information overload as we send voice commands to Siri rather than approach a living person. We love to post social media alerts about our doings and updates, “its all about me” right? It is more convenient to pull up Global Positioning by Satellite rather than ask a person for driving directions. Individualism is a part of the every day person engaged in technology. We are so wired to narcissistic media that is is near impossible to unplug. What do you think about my selfie now? Are these technological marvels fixating our attention on Nemesis’ entrapping pool? How do we depart from the pool edge of this beautiful reflection of what the self can do?

A person’s vocation is the polar opposite of narcissism. A vocation will pursue the area in life that a person can make a generous gift of self. It is a call from God that will enflame one’s desire to serve others. St Clare says her entire life is a call “to become a vessel of God’s compassionate love” poured out for others. This call will never survive in a private world of “God and me.” It requires the community to confirm and affirm the call. The community will sustain a vocational call whether the state of life is a call to be single, ordained, married, or religious. A vocation will have a person compelled to serve a part of the world much bigger than the self. A vocation is not a career but is a personal call by God to serve. Individualism will never survive in a selfless sea of God-called swimmers.

There is an imprint of God in the soul of each person to give themselves generously to a vocation. Given the opportunity people will selflessly give of themselves to something bigger than themselves. We are hard-wired to give ourselves away to a vocation. During 9/11 when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were taken out by terrorists, EMS providers were rushing toward the scene. When most people were fleeing the scene for their own personal safety, fireman, policeman, and EMS providers were running toward the chaos. Some ran for their lives away, others ran for their lives toward. 343 firefighters and 60 policemen died on that day under the rubble of the twin towers. One could easily imagine the difficulty to recruit EMS providers in the aftermath of that level of destruction. But the opposite occurred. Recruitment levels are at record levels in NewYork and people desire to put their lives on the line selflessly to give themselves to something bigger than themselves. These individuals have found their vocation and seek this with all of their heart. This type of self donation has no space for Narcissus.

Where is God calling you to make a heroic donation of self? Have you asked yourself, where does God want my gifts to be selflessly given away in His service? This is your vocation swim practice. And today’s swim lesson is to pull you away from that dangerous pool of narcissism. God is our lifeguard and He will not let us drown!

Time to Cultivate

Time to Cultivate“Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it” (Mt. 13:7) Traveling from Minnesota to Texas and everywhere in between I’m always on the move.  Vocation work requires me to move outward and meet people where they are at.  My role is to nurture the call from God working in the soul who desires to do the Lord’s will.  Along my travels I saw the most tragic thing on the roadside.  It was a semi tractor overtaken by weeds.   A machine that was made to be on the move, rolling down the road and it was covered in weeds.  Wheels made to turn, motor made to rumble, a commander’s chair made for hauling and all were held captive by weeds choking out the truck’s purpose.  The essential nature of the very thing a truck does requires movement.  The purpose of a truck is to move!  Somewhere along the way that movement became stationary and the weeds choked it.  It was the saddest thing ever seen.
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We Franciscan Friars are called to be on the move.  It is uniquely tied to our charism.  Francis received the Gospel mandate to go forth to the world and be a missionary to plant the Gospel (Mt. 19:21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.) St. Francis of Assisi was called to carry the Gospel from Assisi, Italy to the streets of the world.  The Gospel message so moved his heart that he could not remain stationary.  St. Francis was the messenger and sent it to the streets.  Today there is not one continent on the globe that lacks a Franciscan presence to witness the Gospel.  This is why the Gospel continues to move outward today and cannot remain parked on the shoulder, overrun by weeds.

We are called to movement in the spiritual life as well.  The weeds of sin always have the capacity to choke out spiritual growth and tie us down.  The Gospel requires one to move and be willing to accommodate spiritual growth.  Archbishop Joseph Tobin tells of an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor who was counseling a math professor.  The sponsor was not educated to the level of the professor, and when it came to math he could not keep pace. But when it came to sobriety, the math professor let the weeds of booze take root.  So in the first meeting the sponsor told the professor, you should know that I have only counseled 11 guys in AA and 6 of them committed suicide.  The professor was shocked and said, “why are you telling me this?  You are not all that successful in your counseling, you think?”  The sponsor said, “It’s my job to deliver the message, what you do with the message is up to God.”

We all have a spiritual message to deliver with the collateral of our lives.  This message cannot remain stagnant.  Either we move upward and onward toward our eternal destination, or the weeds will immobilize us.  What part of your life needs a bit of weeding?  Is there a neglected area that requires some focused attention?  An addictive behavior?  A bad habit at work? An internal voice that nags you with the repeat switch of shame?  Selfish time that could be filled with charitable outreach toward others?

We are called to be on the move.  The saints before us like St. Francis shared the Gospel and moved on.  Spiritual growth requires us to nudge forward and move on.  Keep those wheels rollin’ and see you at the next rest area!