Vocation is a challenge, a mission of continuous discovery that is marked by discernment and lived in communion.
PUBLISHED ONJan 2020
St. Daniel Comboni wanted to be a priest, to be at the service of the Church and of the African peoples. However, the deepest desire to leave for the heart of Africa became a tangle of doubts and impossibilities: Comboni could not leave because he could not leave his parents! But what does he do? Comboni took the first step: discern his vocation!
After doing the spiritual exercises and having his vocation for the Church confirmed, Comboni finds a way not to leave his parents alone. To do this, he entrusts everything to God!
Only this trust made Comboni decide to leave even before finding solutions: “How afflicted I am by the sacrifices these two poor souls are making to separate themselves from me! What sacrifices the Lord taxes this vocation with! But I have been assured that the Lord is calling me; and I go with this certainty.” (Writings, n. 15)
With faith in God, St. Daniel Comboni found support for his parents and left for the African missions, fulfilling his vocation.
It will be wrong to think that all problems were solved with his departure for Africa. The first step of vocational discernment itself is not an easy moment. Love is always demanding! It always implies the going out of oneself and the reaching out towards the other. This challenge of getting out of onesself guides all vocational paths.
No one is happy alone, and in this sense the path to happiness carries with it the daily challenge of going beyond one’s whims and self-centeredness. To some extent, it is an incessant missionary challenge, since without God, strength fades and the ability to love dissipates.
Love for the African mission has not only made St. Daniel Comboni able to leave his country. This love gave him the ability to remain faithful to his vocation despite all the adversities he encountered. However, this ability was a gift offered by God that Comboni welcomed every day!
Fidelity to one’s vocation is, first of all, fidelity to God’s love. In Him there are no insurmountable obstacles or impossible paths. Only choices that, in spite of being difficult, are the path to reach the goal we dream of that is within God’s horizon.
Mission Is Communion
Many times we look at the lives of the saints and, without realizing it, we look at them as if they were superheroes, full of superhuman powers that allow them to do great things! How wrong we are to think so! Human life is not made of fantasies. Human life radiates the miracle of the divine, but never in an isolated way.
St. Daniel Comboni, the great saint and apostle of Africa, became known as the one who believed in the salvation of Africans, even when many perceived them as lesser beings and as unimportant subhumans.
However, Comboni did nothing alone! He was first educated by his parents, and then in the seminary. When he felt the call to the African mission… he needed help for vocational discernment, he needed help to care for his parents during the time he would spend in Africa, he needed financial support from those who could help him, and he needed everyone’s prayers to remain true to its vocation.
Moreover, once he decided to leave, he could not do it alone. He left the community for another. It was in community, and always in communion with the Church and the world, that Comboni lived his missionary life. When he spoke of his companions, Comboni said: “Our missionaries, whether priests or lay people, live together as brothers in the same vocation.” (Writings, n.1859)
Nothing that comes from God is done individually. Comboni lived with this thought. He did not shy away from work and weariness to make everyone’s support converge, according to the specificity of each one’s vocation, so that the Gospel could be proclaimed to all humanity.
This made him the great saint we honour today: the way he humbly rejected the pretense of wanting to do everything alone (it would be impossible to do it!), and with full confidence in God who is Lord of every vocation, he called and welcomed all forces that, in one way or another, contributed to the mission entrusted to him. This was his true vocation: a vocation marked by love-communion; a vocation that impelled him to a concrete mission, a mission that was not his own, but of all who professed faith in Jesus Christ.
Life Is A Mission
Life implies action, purpose, and meaning! If we think of life from a Christian perspective, we can always speak of it as a mission. This does not mean that we have, like Comboni, to go to faraway lands! However, this implies that, like him, the experience of vocation implies sacrificing one’s whole existence to help our brothers and sisters in Christ (Writings, n. 1769). That is, to respond to Jesus’ mandate to love all mankind.
The common vocation of every Christian is precisely the mission of always loving everything and everyone. This is why vocation always takes on a divine dimension as it “rises above the sphere of the noblest and most brilliant human initiatives” (Writings, n. 1550) - it always starts from faith in God.
The vocation experience should never be understood as something stagnant nor as something that is going to happen somewhere in the future. Rather, it is a mission of constant discovery, always marked by discernment and always lived in communion with our brothers and sisters (never in an individualistic way!). There is no vocation for superheroes, but for human beings who dare to embrace within themselves the gift and strength of God, only able to manifest Himself in the gestures of love and service for humanity.