With my daughter entering the convent this weekend, I find myself thinking about my time with a religious community in the 1980s as I was discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood and religious life. One day, they brought in a well-known retreat master to give the two dozen or so seminarians a day of recollection.
The first words of the priest to begin the day of recollection really startled me. He bluntly said, “None of you are called to the priesthood.” I looked around the room at all the postulants and said to myself, “Boy, Father Tom (the community’s vocation director) sures knows how to pick ‘em!”
The priest then explained that our vocation is “now,” that we must respond wholeheartedly to the Lord right here, right now by being holy seminarians. In five or six years, God willing, the bishop will lay hands on some of us, and then–and only then–would we truly be called to the priesthood.
As it turned out, [more]I wasn’t one of the men called to become a priest. Yet, this important lesson has always stayed with me as a lay Catholic.
A crucial part of the lesson is to seek eternal life right now. This can be quite challenging given the pace of daily life in the world. Further, we already tend to think of eternity exclusively as the sequel to this life. In other words, we live our thirty or sixty or ninety years on this earth, and then when we die eternal life begins.
However, eternal life is a present reality. Sure, in this life “eternity” (literally a dimension outside of time) and temporality coexist, while only after we die will we experience eternal life in its fullness without the admixture of time. But make no mistake–there are seeds of eternity in us now. If there weren’t, we’d have no basis for believing that we will continue to experience life–the eternal, “abundant” life (Jn. 10:10)–after we die.
Scripture frequently presents eternal life as a present reality. For example, in John 17:3, Jesus says, “This is eternal life, to know You, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent.” He doesn’t say, “This will be eternal life . . .”
The present moment is the junction between time and eternity. The past and the future are real, but they are exclusively temporal realities and thus lack the dynamism of “right here, right now.” God’s grace, which plants and nourishes in us the seeds of eternal life, is encountered in the present moment as we strive to live in God’s presence and accept His sovereignty in our lives.
Scripture does present us the case of St. Dismas, the good thief who converted at the very end of his life so that “this day” he was with the Lord in paradise. However, we can’t presume that when we come to the end of our lives that we’ll have the time and proper disposition to accept our Lord’s invitation. That’s a future thing. God speaks to us right here, right now.
We do well, then, to heed the Psalmist’s words, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Ps. 95:7). Or, as St. Paul puts it, “Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation! (2 Cor. 6:2).
Or, as a retreat master once told a bunch of fledgling seminarians, “Vocation is now.”