Discerning in plain English

[I wanted to acknowledge with regret the constant presence of grammatical errors, misspellings, etc in my posts. I rarely have the chance to edit what I write, and often catch mistakes after posting. I know it can make for unpleasant reading. As a teacher of mine in college memorably said, “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” I am genuinely fearless.]

One of my students this summer, in her presentation on the meaning of vocational discernment, shared with us a video series that I thought was just spectacular in its simplicity and depth. Four 3 to 4 minute long videos. So let me share all four here with you:

7 comments on “Discerning in plain English

  1. Louise says:

    Tom, thank you for this post – the videos were incredibly well done and just what I needed to hear.

  2. Jennifer says:

    This was great. Though I started shifting around uncomfortably when the thoughts of the lady in the fourth video were sounding so much like my own.
    It really was a different perspective from what I had picked up previously. This is so tender and gentle- though not for the weak or faint-hearted, but in the vein of “come unto me, you who are heavily burdened, and take my yoke upon your shoulders and I will give you rest”! Awesome.
    This helped me to see that I definitely was starting with a labourer mentality than a spousal one. This got me thinking too about evangelization, Fall in love with Jesus, surrender, listen. So simple, so profound. I have an ongoing desire (obsession?) to get the adults in my family who have all left the Church to come back home. Minimal measurable results to my eye (which fortunately means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things) However, this summer I have “accidentally” evangelized four little girls: three of my nieces and our next-door neighbour. How? Well, just by going about my day-to-day stuff: getting the family ready for Mass, my niece who was staying at my mom’s begged to come with us. She LOVED it, and then the following weekend begged to come back, and brought her sister, who also loved Mass. They came home full of joy and questions and hoping Granny would take them to Mass from then on. My third niece came back with us after our trip home and completely loved the simple grace we sing at our meals. She was singing it all week and couldn’t wait to teach it to her family. And my little 9-year old neighbour just loves our prayer table: she comes over every day and moves things around ever so slightly so it looks just perfect and she asks questions about the objects and pictures (we have a Sacred Heart of Jesus picture, an Immaculate Heart of Mary picture, a votive with an image of Sainte-Anne holding Mary, a crucifix, some flowers, some rosaries, some palms, the occasional magnificent beach find).

    Through these four little girls I see why Jesus said unless you become like a little child you can not enter into the Kingdom. They just sense that there is something Wonderful and Beautiful and Marvellous about this God. I haven’t said a word to them about conversion or becoming Christian (other than explaining that they couldn’t come up to receive Holy Communion because they hadn’t been baptised – to which my niece said boldly, well, let me get baptised, to which I said – talk to your Dad, and to which my husband gave me a look that said – your brother’s gonna freak out.) I just talk about how amazing God is that He created the world and us, and how much He loves us and that we love Him too so that’s why we sing for Him when we eat, and talk to Him throughout the day, and visit Him at Church.

    Anyway, they have shown me how important and powerful it is as a parent to cultivate an environment which makes it easier to incline our kids’ hearts towards Jesus so that they can just fall in love with Him. Ah, falling in love. So impractical, un-useful, wasteful. (Says Jen who is quite sure she is more Vulcan than Human most of the time and tends to want to rush through this feely stuff and get to the point already….thank you God for working on this glitch for me).

    (And rejoice: you are not alone in your grammatical and spelling waywardness as demonstrated by my above comment!)


    • Dismas Dancing says:

      Beautiful, Jen. Absolutely beautiful. Having had my son recently come back to the faith, bringing his daughter and M-I-L along for the ride; and, having worked in RCIA for several years, I both understand and share your joy in bringing others to Jesus through your faith AND your quiet, unpresumptuous works! I treasure your references to coming to Jesus as like a child. Unfortunately, I have too often approached Him with the cantankerous, spoiled-brat actions of some children, rather than the innocent, open-minded eagerness of good children in their quest for truth.

      “Ah, falling in love. So impractical, un-useful, wasteful. (Says Jen who is quite sure she is more Vulcan than Human most of the time and tends to want to rush through this feely stuff and get to the point already….thank you God for working on this glitch for me).” Love it. You so speak my language!

  3. Jennifer says:

    oops, important point I forgot: I realized through my nieces and in so many other jaw-dropping ways that I am so often trying to do big important, impressive things – my will for serving God and labelling it as His will for me (like the video so clearly distinguishes) whereas when I just humbly do the “unimportant” day-to-day stuff of mothering my family – His ACTUAL will for me – He astounds me with how powerfully He acts. Lord, forgive me for being so thick-skulled.

  4. Dismas Dancing says:

    Warning: lengthy blurb to follow. Brother Tom, I am genuinely sorry to take up so much of your space. You do truly inspire my comments; and I genuinely appreciate your patience with them.

    What an excellent opening to this beautiful day along the Gulf Coast! We literally spend our lives discerning “something” about “everything” of major import we do in and with our lives. So, to hear and watch these great discussions on the process—an “art”, in fact—of discernment, wakes me up to a critical facet of my own deficiencies/failures in some of the most important stages of the myriad of decision-making episodes during my own journey.

    “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” was a song co-written in 2008 by Marty Dodson and Jim Collins, both of whom have penned any number of songs recorded by Country Music standouts. The tag line is, “but nobody wants to die!” I first heard it on a recording of a live concert performed by Waylon Jennings, Chris Kristofferson, Willy Nelson, and Rita Coolidge. My first contact with it, M and I were traveling to a film festival into which our son had entered a work (short film comedy) he produced and directed. I was enjoying all the tracks of that CD and the unique blend of these individually quite-unique voices performing some all-time favorites when this tune began. The introductory phrase, “Everybody wants to go to heaven,” is repeated three times, followed by a poignant musical pause and then, BOOM! The tag line hits, “but nobody, nobody, nobody wants to die!” It struck a rather strong chord that has resonated deep within my faith life since hearing it.

    Paraphrased for me as I watched these four well-put-together animated shorts: “Everybody wants to discern God’s Will; but nobody wants to surrender to it!” Oh, how many times I have prayed (quite sincerely in my own mind) to do God’s will when, in fact, if I were to be humbly, candidly, totally, and brutally honest with myself, many prayers were for my OWN will to be that of God’s. Were that to happen (MY will being done), it would be so wonderful, magnificent, good, easy, and wait—DEAD WRONG—for me and the ultimate salvation of my soul. But that’s far too often how it goes. So many times, being truly unable to discern His will apart from what my own druthers wish could/would happen, I began years ago to earnestly pray, “Lord, I’m not exactly sure what Your Will is re this issue (fill in the blank). Please grant me the strength to make the correct choice and accept the outcomes/consequences graciously, whatever those may be.” Many times, the course of action decided upon was, in fact, MY will being NOT done, but God’s plan being executed in its place. Of those times, I can honestly offer that my prayers were answered, that I did, indeed, experience the requisite grace to accept with humility what in fact happened vice the things hoped for.

    Disappointed that certain outcomes weren’t realized? Absolutely! I am, after all, a prideful, sinful man who’d rather have it MY way. Humility is a tough demand. A “hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6:60), so to speak. Certainly, my struggle is for Heaven; but dying to my druthers is often “A Bridge Too Far!” (Cornelius Ryan book on the bloody WWII operation, “Market Garden”). Thanks for sharing this outstanding food for thoughtful soul-searching on how best to actually discern God’s Will and allow it to supersede my own desires.

    BTW, you are no doubt familiar with studies that demonstrate the phenomenon that most folks will rarely miss spelling or punctuation errors in a given piece, even to the point of mentally filling in missing letters (vowels and/or consonants) when reading. While each of us seeks a daunting level of perfection in putting thoughts to paper, I rarely notice written mistakes, instead concentrating on the “what” of your message far more purposefully than the “how” of its appearance in print. (BTW #2: paranoia “drove” me to spell check this piece!) I love your work and eagerly look forward not only to your posts, but also to the wonderful comments of your faithful followers. Christ’s blessings and peace to all.


    • Jennifer says:

      Greetings fellow Vulcan. Thank you for sharing how the phrase “Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die” struck you and how it resonates with “Everybody wants to discern God’s Will; but nobody wants to surrender to it!” This morning I read a satirical, very funny piece entitled: “Study: Children are 800% worse when their mothers are in the room” and it made me instantly think of the St. John of the Cross letter on seeing those around you in your vocation as having been put there in order to help you learn mortification (Dr. Tom shared it here about a month or two ago). I said to my son who is particularly gifted at teaching me mortification: “Aha! I get it! God knows I needed to die to myself and I wasn’t doing it very well so he has sent you to me to kill me a little bit each day!” He thought this was hilarious as we often joke about how we can all drive each other crazy but still love and defend one another fiercely. We then co-crafted a silly poem to be recited in a robotic monotone as per the awesome mother`s day recital rehearsal scene from “Despicable Me 2” which he has been repeating to us and teaching his siblings between belly laughs, all morning:
      We push her buttons
      We pull her hair
      We bug our mother, everywhere
      And she’s going crazy, beyond compare (that was his favourite line).

      Oh, and speaking of St. John of the Cross’ advice, it reminds me of St. Faustina’s prayer to be transformed into mercy. (Which I have posted in my bathroom, because really, where else in the house can I lock the door and have five minutes to myself?) I tell myself to read “family” in place of neighbour when I’m struggling to love)
      “O Most Holy Trinity! As many times as I breathe, as many times as my heart beats, as many times as my blood pulsates through my body, so many thousand times do I want to glorify Your mercy.
      I want to be completely transformed into Your mercy and to be Your living reflection, O Lord. May the greatest of all divine attributes, that of Your unfathomable mercy, pass through my heart and soul to my neighbor.
      Help me, O Lord, that my eyes may be merciful, so that I may never suspect or judge from appearances, but look for what is beautiful in my neighbors’ souls and come to their rescue.
      Help me, that my ears may be merciful, so that I may give heed to my neighbors’ needs and not be indifferent to their pains and moanings.
      Help me, O Lord, that my tongue may be merciful, so that I should never speak negatively of my neighbor, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all.
      Help me, O Lord, that my hands may be merciful and filled with good deeds, so that I may do only good to my neighbors and take upon myself the more difficult and toilsome tasks.
      Help me, that my feet may be merciful, so that I may hurry to assist my neighbor, overcoming my own fatigue and weariness. My true rest is in the service of my neighbor.
      Help me, O Lord, that my heart may be merciful so that I myself may feel all the sufferings of my neighbor. I will refuse my heart to no one. I will be sincere even with those who, I know, will abuse my kindness. And I will lock myself up in the most merciful Heart of Jesus. I will bear my own suffering in silence. May Your mercy, O Lord, rest upon me.
      You Yourself command me to exercise the three degrees of mercy. The first: the act of mercy, of whatever kind. The second: the word of mercy — if I cannot carry out a work of mercy, I will assist by my words. The third: prayer — if I cannot show mercy by deeds or words, I can always do so by prayer. My prayer reaches out even there where I cannot reach out physically. ”

      p.s. I think I beat you on the comment length 😉

  5. Mary Tauzin says:

    I think these are MARVELOUS!! Please pass on my compliments to the author.

    Mary Tauzin

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