Cardinal Ratzinger was once asked: “how many paths are there for reaching God?” With disarming simplicity he replied: “as many as there are people.”[3]There are as many histories of vocation as there are men and women. Below we will try to point out some of the most frequent signs for reaching a conviction about one’s own vocation, in order to help us to recognize them.

A restless heart

Nicodemus senses a restlessness in his heart. He has heard Jesus preach and been moved by his words. Nevertheless, some of his teachings have scandalized him. Certainly, witnessing Jesus’ miracles has amazed him, but he has also been unsettled by the authority with which Jesus expels the merchants from the Temple, calling it “my Father’s house” (cf. Jn2:16). Who would dare to speak like this. In his heart he senses a growing hope that he finds it hard to repress. Could this be the Messiah? But he is still assailed by questions and doubts. He can’t bring himself to follow Jesus openly, although he wants to find answers to his questions. So he goes to Him at night: Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him (Jn3:2). His heart is restless.

The same thing happens to other people in the Gospel, like that young man who came up to Jesus one day and asked: Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life? (Mt 19:16). He isn’t satisfied with his life. His heart is uneasy. He senses that he is capable of doing more. Jesus tells him that he is right to be searching: You lack one thing… (Mk 10:21). We can also recall here the apostles Andrew and John. When Jesus sees them following Him He asks: What do you seek? (Jn 1:38). All of these people are “searchers.” They are searching for a marvelous turn of events that will transform their life and make it an adventure. Their heart is open and hungry for more, filled with dreams and longings. Restless.

A young person once asked Saint Josemaria how one sensed a vocation to the Work. He replied: “It’s not a matter of feeling, my son, although we realize when God is calling us. The heart is uneasy, unsatisfied…. You aren’t happy with yourself!”[4] Often when searching for one’s own vocation, everything begins with this restlessness in the heart.

A loving presence

But what exactly is this restlessness? Where does it come from? In recounting the scene of the young man who draws close to our Lord, Saint Mark says that Jesus looking upon him loved him (Mk 10:21). He does the same with us. Somehow we sense in our soul the “presence” of a special love choosing us for a unique mission. God makes himself present in our heart, and seeks an “encounter,” communion. But this has not yet been achieved, and hence our restlessness.

This loving presence of God in the soul can be manifested in various ways: a hunger for greater intimacy with Him; the eagerness to satisfy, through my own life, God’s thirst for souls; the desire to build up the Church, God’s family in the world; the longing to see our talents truly bear fruit; the dream of alleviating so much suffering in every corner of the world; the awareness of how many gifts we have received: “Why have I received so much and others so little?”

God’s call can also be revealed through apparently fortuitous events, which stir our heart and leave an imprint there. When reflecting on his own life, Saint Josemaria said: “Our Lord was preparing me in spite of myself, using apparently innocuous things to instill a divine restlessness in my soul. Thus I came to understand very well that love, so human and so divine, that moved Saint Therese of the Child Jesus when, leafing through the pages of a book, she suddenly came upon a picture of one of the Redeemer’s wounded hands. Things like that happened to me too—things that moved me and led me to daily Communion, to purification, to confession, and to penance.”[5]

This loving presence is sometimes also discovered through people or ways of living the Gospel that leave a lasting divine imprint on our soul. Although at times it may be an unexpected event or encounter that changes our life, usually our calling takes shape through the way we have lived our life up to this moment. Finally, words from Sacred Scripture may engrave themselves on our heart and leave a loving savor that lasts our whole life. This is what happened to Saint Teresa of Calcutta, for example, by hearing Jesus’ cry on the Cross: I thirst (Jn 19:28); or to Saint Francis Xavier, whose life was changed by Jesus’ question: For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? (Mt 16:26).

But perhaps what is most characteristic of this restlessness in the heart is that it is marked by what we could call a “painful appeal.” As Saint Paul VI said, God’s call comes to us as “a voice that is both unsettling and calming at the same time, a gentle and imperious voice, a bothersome and yet loving voice.”[6] The call both attracts and repels us; it spurs us to abandon ourselves to divine love, while frightening us with the risk of our freedom. “We resist saying ‘yes’ to God; we both want to and don’t want to.”[7]

The detonator




[3] Joseph Ratzinger, The Salt of the Earth, Ignatius Press, 1997, p. 34.

[4] Saint Josemaria, Notes from a family gathering, Cronica, 1974, vol. I, p. 529.

[5] Saint Josemaria, Meditation, 14 February 1964. Cited in Andres Vasquez de Prada, The Founder of Opus Dei, vol. 1, p. 67.

[6] Saint Paul VI, Homily, 14 October 1968.

[7] Saint Josemaria, Notes from a family gathering, Cronica, 1972, p. 460.

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