Craftmanship

by Adam Burns

As someone who considers himself an artist and creative-type, something that's important to me is craftmanship. Whenever I create, whether in writing or music or in my self-taught dabbles into graphic design; there's an energy I get, a buzz, that comes from it. There's also a certain level of pride attached - whatever I create represents me, it's an extension of me, so it has to meet a certain standard. The whole process of creating comes under an intense spotlight of careful crafting. I'm constantly seeking and teaching myself new methods or styles that will help me externalise what I picture in my mind. It was a similiar thing when I played basketball. Having played the sport most of my life, and being a fan of it all of my life, there was a level of competitiveness and fascination that fell just short of perfectionism and obsession. 

When we're younger we're taught every person is gifted differently, that we all have something we're naturally good at. Between my brother and I, he was the sporty one and I was the one into books. When I was a kid I don't think anyone picked me as a creative-type, my gifts flew under the radar. Yet, I did enjoy reading, and as I read I paid attention to the way author's phrased things, to their vocabulary, even how they punctuated. I took notice of the flow of their writing. Soon, I began writing: short stories, recounts, fake news articles, even comedy! I began to dabble into poetry, which lead into writing song lyrics, which brought me into contact with the world of music. My ears became carefully attentive to how musicians crafted their songs, how their music rise and fell, how their lyrics told a story, how the two twisted together. What I was reading and what I was listening to didn't just come from nowhere, they were carefully crafted works, each element intentionally placed so that the outcome mimicked an idea within the artist's mind.

If you google synonyms for "vocation" one of the words that will come up is craft. Often vocation is painted as a divine responsibility that's dumped on us and that we then have to somehow come to grips with. This is especially true in the way we illustrate the celibate priesthood, or exclusive marriage. More and more as society develops, the choosing of a State of Life seems like receiving an extreme burden. Yet within the definition of vocation is this idea of craftmanship, this idea that one develops a calling, growing in confidence in using one's gifts, journeying towards mastery of that state. 

The process of discernment and preparation (or formation) highlights that there's a period of growing in knowledge and understanding of our calling. Even within the States of Life there are milestones or accomplishments which imply an individuals growth within that state. The challenge for each of us wherever we sit on the spectrum of vocation, is to continually work at our craft. Whether that means growing in understanding through further training or study, or experimenting with gifts; there are ways in which we can further grow into our vocation. 

The craft of living our vocation is important - crucial even - since our vocation necessarily touches and impacts on the lives of others. This isn't to say that living our vocation will be clean or smooth. Rather, the more we work at our vocation as a craft, the more it will be a reflection of God's action in the world, inspiring the lives of others and drawing them to the truth of the Gospel.

Same Call, Different Context

by Adam Burns

Often when I see a new movie, I like to compare it with another movie which has a similar storyline. There's a theory that there's a limited number or storylines that are perpetuated throughout humanity, but within different frameworks. For example, the movie Avatar was (for me) the space version of the older movie, Dances With Wolves. Or, one of my favourites, Glory Road, a story about a college basketball team confronting the racial attitudes within their school community, reminded me of Remember the Titans, a story about a high school football team confronting the racial attitudes within their school community. Same story, different context.

The same can be said about vocation: that God calls us still remains the same, but the context of that calling most certainly has changed. Vocation is a concept that has grown to have a broad and fluid understanding. Certainly this is the challenge in promoting vocation today, when the word "vocation" itself has so many meanings attached to it:

So in promoting vocation in a Church sense, we use a lot of new language and expressions, compared to how it may have been presented in the past. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, our world has changed. Women have a greater role in society, we tend to not stick to just one career path, there are more opportunities for further education and up-skilling, and technological advancements in both travel and social networking have broken down barriers making the whole world accessible to everyone. We also now have broader understandings of the human person, human development and of the individual. All this means we can't talk about fixed categories anymore, as what may have been in the past: choosing a State of Life isn't as definitive as it was previously. So we do talk about gifts and passions and dreams, because these are all real concepts now, given how we understand the human person and the broad possibilities available in our global community.

Secondly, our Church changed. The Second Vatican Council presented the identity of the priest, the vocation of Religious, the role of the laity, and the shape of the Church and it's interaction with the world all in ways that had long been forgotten. Within this understanding of Church, a vocation can't just simply be a State of Life, but each Christian person's response to their Baptism:

Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as children of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.”
— Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1213.

Following on from Vatican II, the Church also came to understand the need for a New Evangelisation: the same Gospel proclaimed through new methods, new ardour and new expressions. In the context of the Church's renewed understanding of itself against the backdrop of the changes in society, how we express each Christian's place in the Church and in the world has had to be revised. Vocation, as a response to the Gospel, needs to be promoted with new methods, new ardour and new expressions. 

What this means for those seeking God's call is: yes, you are called, you do have a place in the Church and you are needed to shape the world! What this means for those of us further along the vocation journey is that we must keep encouraging young people to discern their calling and we must keep praying for vocations. While a lot has changed about how we understand vocation, one thing will always remain the same: God is calling us!

I'm Here

by Adam Burns

Here at Vocation Brisbane we stress a lot about the questioning or searching for God's call. Our infamous tagline is "Where are you going?"  The question is important of course, otherwise we wouldn't stress it so much. It implies that something lays ahead, something remains to be discovered or uncovered in our lives. And it emphasizes that that discovering or uncovering requires effort, searching or realisation. It might cause reflection: going forwards in a direction means coming from a previous place in life. In all of this it can be hard to articulate presence because the notion of vocation is that there is always more on offer; throughout the whole of our earthly lives there will never be a stage where we can no longer realise a calling on our lives. The Present is the forgotten middle child between the older, accomplished Past and the younger, promising Future.

Discernment needs to be tempered with presence. When we ask "where am I going?", we also can say "I'm here!". Often what gets lost when we dream about states of life or our future is that part of our calling is to love and serve God and others in the everyday. When Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha he desires firstly their presence before their service (Lk 10:38-42). Saying "I'm here" means being present to the lives of those in our very sphere of influence, in our homes, at our workplaces, in our community. Its being attentive to God's presence in our own lives - rather than chasing divine calls falling from the heavens. 

"I'm here" is the decisive statement of the vocation journey. When I entered the seminary I was essentially saying, "I'm here, I want to serve with my whole life, is this the way?" It was an "I'm here" statement which grounded my "where am I going" question. Again, when I proposed to my girlfriend, when I asked her to marry me I was ultimately saying "I'm here, I'm serious about what we mean to each other and I want to spend the rest of my life with you!" It was the necessary statement which grounded our fantasies and turned them into a vision of what our life together will be like.

Look, we don't need to make everything about massive, existential, defining decisions. Saying "I am here" could simply mean taking up an extra task at work or at home which makes like a little bit easier for everyone else. It's an accountability statement, which ensures we don't shirk our current responsibilities in the name of "discernment", since discernment itself depends on our life being engaged in the here and now of life. Being present prevents us from being cosmological navel gazers, searching for life's meaning by sitting back and looking within ourselves. 

Unfortunately, vocation is too often presented as this far-off, once-of decision that we make as adults for rest of our life. It becomes the stuff of dreams or fantasy, or even the cause of despair as each option is compared to the other. Yet, when we reflect on what the statement "I'm here!" means for each of our lives, we're confronted with the immediacy of vocation, the everyday calling of loving and serving both God and others regardless of yesterday, today or tomorrow. When we submerge ourselves in the present we in fact find the stimulus for those greater existential questions. We find there's enough going on here and now to keep us busy until we arrive at those life decisions.

Go For It!

by Adam Burns

“Go for it!” Those three words form perhaps the most cliché euphemism in the Australian vocabulary, but there is so much truth hidden beneath the surface of this simple, often used phrase. Firstly, it implies there is something to “go for”. And often, that “something” is of great value, something that has long been the object of thoughts, dreams or desires. Secondly, those words hint that some feeling or fear (or even perhaps, laziness) is holding one back from “going for it”.

I’m approaching the six-year mark since my year in the seminary, which prompted me to reflect on the phrase “Go for it!”. It was those words that spurred me in the first place to apply to enter the program for priestly formation. Priestly discernment was that “thing” which occupied my thoughts and dreams of the future; and I was held back by the fear of “what if”: what if I’m not called to be a priest? The only way to answer that question was to go to the seminary and honestly ask the question: am I called to be a priest. After a year I knew the answer, and I left the formation program and began dreaming again about what my future and my life could look like.

Fast forward to August last year and I was confronted with a set of different doubts in the face of a new dream. After searching through my life and my heart, I had discovered the deep desire for marriage, to give my life totally to another. Yet, even after years of wrestling with where God was calling me, I still found my mind swirling with doubts: are we ready, is the timing right? I went for it, I proposed, and she said “yes!”

There are two things that profoundly shaped my journey. The first was having mentors and a community around me who were honest and encouraging. These were people who knew me and knew the journey I was on, who were able to say to me, “Seriously dude, just do it! Just go for it!” At both times, when I was deciding to apply for seminary and when I was preparing to propose, I had people around me who said, “yep, you’re ready” or “you just need to do it”. That support took me discernment outside of my own head and feelings and pushed my discernment to be more grounded and real.

The other learning from it all was to be merciful to myself. This year in the Church we’re highlighting mercy in the Extraordinary Jubilee. The focus can often be receiving God’s mercy and extending it to others. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of mercy is extending it to ourselves. I punished myself for years after I left the seminary by dwelling on my exit. I blamed others for not supporting me, I blamed myself for being naïve, I questioned the whole experience and discounted what it actually meant for my life. Eventually I was able to show myself mercy, not in some flimsy, self-deprecating sense; but by allowing myself to move on. The moment I finally was able to believe for myself that I went to the seminary, discerned I wasn’t called to priesthood and left was the moment whole new horizons opened in my life. This isn’t to say that leaving the seminary (or leaving anything uncompleted) is a shameful experience, just that in my own personal journey there was so much emotional baggage I was hanging on to that I needed to be ok with.

So, as cliché or cheesy as the phrase may be, “Go for it!” actually encapsulates much of what is at the heart of discernment. As a New Year begins it may be your mantra, echoed by your mentors and the community around you, to give yourself the permission to try something and maybe get it wrong – but still be ok with that. In 2016, the journey goes on!

Dreams

by Adam Burns

I was filled with excitement for this past Christmas. The source of this excitement was my fiancée, since this will the first Christmas we shared together. Christmas is in itself already a time for great joy and thanks, but this Christmas I had my future wife and marriage to be extra thankful for.

It’s a stunning contrast to my Christmas celebrations over the last few years. Christmas has often found me wandering and wondering about where I fit in the world, perhaps not unlike Mary and Joseph seeking refuge in Bethlehem. My discernment journey seemed to drop me in temporary homes for the Christmas season, and I often felt like a party-crasher at other people’s Christmas celebrations. This time I felt at home. While becoming engaged has been a significant life choice for me, one that has grounded me and calmed many of my fleeting impulses, it's only part of the equation of why this Christmas was so different for me.

I think we often exaggerate the weight of those “major” decisions, moments or commitments that happen through life. They tend to overshadow the rest of life (or Ordinary Time as our Liturgical calendar calls it). We can overlook that there is a whole realm of on-going, everyday “stuff” happening in our life that leads into and follows from any momentous “major” life decision. It’s a societal problem. The more immersed I become in wedding planning, the more I realise how much emphasis can be placed on one day. The intensity and commercialism of the wedding industry is mind-numbing! What is it really about?

This past Christmas season has sparked for me all sorts of ideas and thoughts on how I will celebrate Christmas in the future with my wife and family - thoughts and ideas that previously were just dreams or distant illusions. While discernment takes direction from the decisions we make, a vocation needs also to still be inspired by dreams, thoughts, passions and idealism. Remember, St Joseph is inspired by dreams and idealism to protect Mary and her unborn child, despite the cultural ramifications of such a choice.

Celebrating my first Christmas with my fiancée has reminded me why we use the word discernment rather than decision making to pursue God’s call in our lives – we are not just making a decision or a series of decisions throughout our life. We have to fill the space in between those decisions. And what do we fill that space with? Thoughts, dreams, passions, feelings. These form the lifeline that keeps us going from one decision to the next. As the initial excitement fades from a major change in life, it's idealism and belief that keeps us going on that path. If not, we would be bored or disillusioned, prepared to throw it all away. 

Whenever we talk about vocation and major life decisions or commitments we have this tendency to put aside passion or dreaming, it seems to airy-fairy when our survival is in the balance. While there is a seriousness to vocational choices that requires grounded-ness and level thinking; it's our dreams and passions, our idealism, which fleshes out those choices and keeps them afloat in the face of challenges and obstacles. Choices are important, but if we are just decision makers then how different are we from computers running algorithms? Vocation is more than decision making, it is the invitation to keep dreaming about how God’s love becomes reality in the world, in my world, in your world.

Going

by Adam Burns

How to name a blog? It's a difficult task, and one that confronted me as I created this blog. The challenge is to think of something that will adequately introduce the content of the blog in a way that will also capture new readers. It mustn't be too simple, not too complicated. The lure of cheezy and abstract titles is real. At one point there was consideration of latin titles. But in the end I went with something that is core to Vocation Brisbane's mission: "Going".

The question we ask throughout the Archdiocese is the latin phrase "Quo Vadis", meaning "where are you going?". The question prompts reflection about where and how a relationship with God impacts the direction of our lives. It invites dreaming and discernment about the future. At some point though that reflection necessarily becomes action, decision, movement. It becomes lived reality. The question shifts focus from the questioning of "where" to the movement of "going".

It's this movement precisely that we want to capture in this blog: the "going" of real life people pursuing God's call in their life. These stories serve as inspiration, motivation and direction for those questioning and for those attempting their own "goings". 

The stories collected here in "Going" are real. They serve to remind us that God's call is real. So, where are you going?