Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

Vocations: mysterious grace

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Oct. 2, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Our lives are filled with mystery. In many ways, life is less mysterious than it once was – the sciences have seen to that. Our sense of wonder is no less acute. But our sense of wondering, our sense of awe, as we stand before the unknown, the unknowable – as we stand before mystery –

Relationship is a mystery. People fall in love, marry, create a family: mysterious. Wondrous, too – but a mystery. We stand before that mystery in awe, in wonder, and with a sense of joy and rejoicing. But it is no less mysterious.

We know some things. We know that God loves us. We know that God wants a relationship with us, as individuals and as a community of faith. We know that our relationships with one another can help lead us to deeper relationship with God.

Within our communities of faith, within our Faith, we have the sacraments – points of light, points of contact with God. Solid, tangible instances and events of God’s grace touching us, healing us, enriching us. We understand bread, and wine, and water, and oil. And yet, as we stand before those sacraments, and embrace them, and allow them to embrace us; as we accept the grace, and savor the joy: nevertheless, we face mystery.

The mystery of relationship of one human being with another and with a community. The relationship of God with one human being and with a community.


Life is about relationship. The relationship between husband and wife, ultimately, is mystery. Joyful, and exciting, and a place of growth and discovery. But also mystery.

The vocation of marriage is a call to enter into that sacramental mystery, with trust and commitment.

And the vocation to priesthood and Religious life is another call. Also mysterious; also involving trust; also involving commitment. And yes, involving joy.

As a society, of course, we don’t quite know what to do with people who are not married. Many people will tell you right up front: “It’s not natural.”

Perhaps part of that comes from the natural human inclination toward fear of being alone. No doubt it dates back to the very early days of creation, when coming together in a group increased the odds of survival.

In a way, that call can become something to fear – certainly, something to deny.

Part of the mystery of priesthood and Religious life, however, is the call of God. With that call comes the grace of that vocation. That grace includes the fact that life as a priest, as a Religious, is a life lived in service with and for God’s people. It’s not a call to loneliness; it’s a call to unique relationship within the community of faith. Because of the unique nature of that call – a call that’s not at all understood by society at large – it’s far too easy to fear the stirrings of a vocation. It’s almost more acceptable to try to ignore that invitation from God to live as a priest, as a Religious.

The fact is, though, that the call of God really is a call filled with mystery. The call to marriage; the call to priesthood; the call to Religious life: all of them mysterious, all of them from God.

All of them can be ignored, too. Our society doesn’t always value committed relationships of any kind, whether individuals or communities. Those voices, those calls, can seem much louder than the voice of God.

I ask all of you to listen: listen for the voice of God in your life. Pray that you can discern what God is saying to you. Pray for those who are saying “yes” to the mystery of vocation – to marriage, yes, but also to priesthood and to Religious life. There’s no need to fear the mystery of God’s grace. Trust the mysterious grace that touches all of us.

As you hear God call to you, don’t be afraid to listen, and to respond; to say “yes,” even when every other inclination might tell you otherwise.

God speaks to all of us. God calls all of us. God touches all of us. It’s up to us to listen, and answer.

Please pray for me, and for all priests, as we pray for you.

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