Universal call to holiness starts with each of us

Clarion Herald Commentary

Here’s the “Final Jeopardy!” answer for those who think they know everything about the local church: “As part of the Ninth General Synod of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, it is known as Priority No. 4, Goal No. 1.”

If you answered – “What is ‘Prepare servant leaders for the church: Nurture awareness within families of God’s call to holiness and the need to put our gifts at the service of the community?’” – then you win either a reserved, front-row pew at St. Louis Cathedral for Christmas Midnight Mass or an autographed photograph of Alex Trebek.

As one of the 21 goals of the synod, helping individuals and families nurture holiness is something the archdiocese can feel prophetic about because it promulgated that worthy goal in 2015, three years before Pope Francis issued his lengthy apostolic exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad) – The Call to Holiness in Today’s World,” this past April.

In his 22,000-word treatise, Pope Francis covered the importance of discernment and cautioned against rigidity, blindly doing things as they have always been done and gossip.

Since the Holy Spirit “bestows holiness in abundance among God’s holy and faithful people,” the pope said, it is not just the canonized saints who are holy but the people he called the “saints next door” – those in “the middle class of holiness” who display holiness through their small, daily acts of kindness.

Pope Francis mentioned as an example the patience shown by parents who raise their children “with immense love” or who “work hard” to support their families.

Picking up on the universal call to holiness as the product of our baptism, Susie Veters, director of stewardship and parish services of The Catholic Foundation, and Dr. Tom Neal, director of master’s degree programs and the Institute for Lay Ecclesial Ministry at Notre Dame Seminary, have collaborated on two discernment workshops called “Discover Your Gifts and Live Your Strengths.”

They held one workshop last week at Notre Dame Seminary, and the other will be offered Oct. 13 at the Northshore Catholic Center in Covington.

“It’s a discernment workshop to help people understand the process of self-knowledge and the spiritual tools of discerning how to live out their basic call to holiness,” Veters said.

Before coming to the workshop, participants are asked to take a 30-minute online, evaluation tool from the Gallup Corporation called CliftonStrengths, which identifies a person’s top five strengths in areas such as strategic thinking, relationship building, analytical thinking, empathy, positivity or some other virtue.

It is not a personality test, such as Meyers-Briggs or DISC, Veters said, because it has really nothing to do with whether you are an introvert or an extrovert.

“It identifies your gifts, talents and core virtues,” Veters said.

Veters’ profile identified “relationship building” as one of her core strengths, as opposed to strategic thinking. “It affirmed for me how God is using me, even though my job tends to be about organizing things,” Veters said. “It really frees me up to know where my call lies.”

Neal, who also serves as director of spiritual formation at Notre Dame Seminary, says the assessment tool can help people discern how to live out their vocation in the world, not simply in church ministry but also in the workplace or in daily interactions with people.

“It’s a great tool that identifies your particular, natural strengths and orients the way you carry out your own style of leadership and teamwork – how you work with others,” Neal said. “My job as a theologian is to help us understand what our vocation is, which flows from our baptism as lay faithful.”

Neal uses the writings of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who developed the Spiritual Exercises, to help people discern God’s will in their lives.

Boiling it down, Neal says, discerning God’s will first involves understanding that God has a plan for all people through the natural, moral law.

“We know God does not want us to lie, steal, cheat, murder or commit adultery and God wants us to love our neighbor and be people of prayer, generosity and service, to be forgiving,” Neal said. “Once we understand that general picture of God’s will for everyone, then we can move to the more particular. If these are things we are asked to do as a Christian, then in what way in my particular space and with the needs around me can I make them real? So, the first step is knowing what God is asking of all and making sure we’re committed to all. Then you begin the process to come to self-knowledge – what things do other people see in me?”

The process of discerning God’s will, Neal said, continues with prayer, which leads to an internal sense of peace. Whether it is a big decision or small decision, the time comes to actually do it and test it out.

“It’s a good, common-sense way to make good decisions and learn more effectively to discern what God’s will is,” Neal said.

St. Ignatius was spiritually perceptive in helping others “see what things can blind us and pull us away,” Neal said. “He called it desolation and consolation. He asks us to focus on what things leave us hollow and empty and which things inspire us to a sense of peace, zeal and passion.”

Veters said the workshop also suggests that it might be helpful if most people tried to build on their strengths rather than trying to improve their faults.

“The great example of that is penmanship,” Veters said. “If I try to write my name really neat with the hand I normally write with, I can practice and get even better. But if I try to write my name with the hand I don’t normally write with, no amount of practice is going to make me that much better. So, maybe this will help people discover their God-given talents so they can inspire their community.”

The workshop will be offered Oct. 13 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Northshore Catholic Center. The online tool should be completed before the workshop. For information, go to www.cf.arch-no.org/leadership-development or contact Susie Veters at 596-3042.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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