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Know the Eucharist, know your vocation

The Eucharist is the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ the Lord. Sadly, those words are rarely very moving for people who do not already believe that they are true. 

For many people I know personally, the Eucharist is more-or-less irrelevant to everyday life. How can this be? If it is really the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ the Lord, then why doesn’t it seem to make a difference in the world? Discerning the will of God and vocation are the beginning of an answer to this question. You can come to know your vocation through a personal relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist and part of that relationship is expressed and grows through the Sacrament of Confession. By living our vocation in relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist, we ourselves become the Body of Christ in an unbelieving world.

The Church needs more young men and women to respond to the extraordinary vocations of priesthood and religious life. If the Eucharist is the living embodiment of the Lord Jesus then it is essential in our journey of coming to know and love God. If we desire to know the will of God (i.e. vocation) then it seems obvious that we need to deepen our Eucharistic piety. Discerning a vocation is not akin to asking God for a blueprint for life, because we can only come to know someone’s will by spending time with them. God desires to be close to us in friendship, not dictating orders like a military general from afar.

This is how my personal relationship with Jesus grew through the Eucharist. When I was in high school and college, I often thought about my vocation as a mission from God that he would reveal to me through riddles and puzzles across a long-distance relationship. Honestly, that approach to discernment was not very attractive to me, and I didn’t care about God’s will because I wasn’t interested in solving the puzzle. However, once I had an awakening experience at a Steubenville of the Rockies Youth Conference during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, I began to realize a different approach to vocational discernment.

Once I began to believe in the Real Presence of Jesus and think about the Eucharist outside of Sunday Mass, my personal daily prayer began to be directed toward Jesus in the Eucharist. Prayer was no longer a series of aimless messages that I sent to God and hoped he would respond in some mysterious way, but it became more focused on simply living in relationship with him in every aspect of life. I began to relate everything to Jesus and my reception of Holy Communion. Now discernment was more about paying attention to Jesus in the present moment and allowing him to reveal his will in the appropriate place and time according to my friendship with him. Discerning God’s will is not about finding the blueprint or deciphering the coded messages from heaven, it’s about making my friendship with Jesus in the Eucharist the compass of my life as I walk reverently through this broken world, day by day.

Confession is another aspect of a personal relationship with Jesus and the Eucharist. I used to think that the spiritual life was primarily the moral life. The moral life is included in the spiritual life, but they are not synonymous. For example, I used to think that the Sacrament of Confession was to repair the moral mistakes in the project of my relationship with Jesus and the Church. Sometimes an obsession with maintaining a perfect moral record can begin to eclipse the dynamic relationship that Jesus desires to have with me. I myself struggled with a bout of scrupulosity during my seminary career. A big part of my freedom from scrupulosity was a revolution in my understanding of confession. Instead of seeing it as a tool to focus on and repair my moral faults to maintain a perfect record with Jesus and the Church, I began to experience the gentleness and love of God for me in the midst of my sins. This led me to see confession as a special meeting with my best friend to share with him another part of my life in a safe and merciful context. Through regular and personal experiences of the love of Jesus in confession, the darkness inside of me was exposed to the light, and the guilt and shame of sin became less scary and less of an obsession. Confession does indeed repair our relationship with Jesus and the Church, but the more impersonal and project-oriented this experience is, the more isolated and guilty Catholics feel, even if they frequent the Sacrament of Confession often. The goal is to bring every part of ourselves into the relationship that satisfies all our deepest desires beginning with Jesus alive in the Eucharist.

Pope John Paul II said that the confessional was a privileged place for a young person to begin to understand his or her vocation. Following the logic of God (theo-logic) revealed to us in the Eucharist we can begin to understand how Eucharistic devotion and frequent confession can lead us into a beautiful life of self-gift through our vocation (marriage, priesthood, religious life). Eucharistic coherence is about coming alive in the reality of a dynamic relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist which orders every part of our lives around him. The Sacrament of Confession allows us to bring even the evil we encounter within ourselves into right order around our God — a friend in the Eucharistic bread. Walking with Jesus in this manner, we begin to know his thoughts, his feelings, and his desires, which is discernment. Once we know him better, we will begin to understand our own vocation better, too. 

Father Ryan O'Neill
Father Ryan O'Neill is the Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Denver.
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