Sometimes I get into some anguish over this life that I have chosen, this vocation. Has it made me a more charitable person, someone more open to the love of God and more free to love his neighbor, or only more selfish and self-involved? Does it give glory to God? Is it really a sign of his coming Kingdom? Twice I have chosen to seek entrance into one of the mainstream branches of the Franciscan Order instead of some newer, reformed group. Was that the best thing? The best thing for me? What God willed for me? Has this life brought me closer to Jesus? (This last one was the solitary criterion of discernment for my spiritual director at the time of my entering the Capuchins.)
Then there are my relationships to the brothers themselves, to the Order, to the Franciscan movement, etc. Are these not ambivalent in many ways? Isn't it true that I have never really felt comfortable or at home in religious life as I have found it? If I examine my conscience on what I have vowed, that 'with all my heart I give myself to this Brotherhood,' am I not overwhelmed by what is found to be lacking?
When I heard the gospel at Mass today, however, it occurred to me that maybe all of this might not be such a bad thing.
At the beginning of chapter six, St. John says that a multitude followed Jesus, "because they saw the signs which he did on those who were diseased." (6:2)
When the people continue to seek Jesus after he feeds them with the five loaves and two fish, Jesus himself accuses them:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you: for on him has God the Father set his seal." (6:26-27)
Having seen the signs worked on behalf of others, they began to follow Jesus. But when a sign was worked for them, they stopped 'seeing' the sign and only followed for the sake of the material security and satisfaction in which the sign arrived.
It reminds me of a joke I learned early in my Franciscan life. A friar would say,
'I came to do good, and I've done pretty well.'
It's a little masterpiece of the bemused self-deprecation which is the gift and charm of many religious. But it's also a piece of biting self-criticism, confessing that our intentions were better when we began our journey of religious life, and that we have found ourselves all to happy to make friends with the inner and outer securities and comforts we ended up finding there.
So maybe it's a grace to have doubts about having done well, about whether the work I am given to do gives glory to God, or even about being an adequate priest or religious. Maybe it's a gift to not feel entirely comfortable with the brothers that the Lord has given me. Could my vocation itself, in addition to being God's great mercy for my soul, also be a 'messenger of Satan' sent to beat me and keep me from becoming proud of the graces of I've received?
One of my formation directors used to remind me that to be poor was to be perpetually anxious. Maybe this is the poverty that invites me into the suffering Christ, to hide myself in him, to find the rest that can only be had by lying down in his wounds.