Do I wish I knew then what I know now? Do I wish I knew then, when I was first discerning a vocation to the religious life and priesthood, what I know now, over 20 years later? The answer is simple: Absolutely not! Not because things have somehow been so terrible, but because there is no way I could have borne then what I know now.
You see a vocation is not an answer – and certainly not the final answer, but it is an open-ended question (an open-ended questing) that involves ever and ever deeper and richer questions.
In the alternate gospel passage for the feast of Pentecost, Jesus says to His disciples: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when He comes, the Spirit of Truth, He will guide you to all truth” (Jn. 16:12-13). I always used to fret when I heard this passage: “Jesus must have something terrifying to reveal!” But I’ve learned He really has something truly marvelous to reveal—so marvelous we can’t possibly bear it all at once. It is instead revealed day-by-day, choice-by-choice, through the lived experience of sorrow and death and joy and new life.
The “unbearable” is borne only through the continuous gift of the Spirit. We simply need to learn how not to live our lives, or our vocations, as if they were an answer to a question, but rather the acceptance of a journey into ever deeper questions. Questions like: Who am I? and Who is God?
Pentecost is a feast about forgetting the answers and jumping into the questions while allowing the Spirit to reveal the unbearable, marvelous truth of our God. The poet Rainier Maria Rilke once wrote, in Letters to a Young Poet: “… I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Don’t search for answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.”
Pentecost is a feast about being transformed. And this transformation is from an answer-centered life to a question-centered life. As soon as we are able to admit we don’t have the answers (and indeed do not need to have the answers) then the Spirit rushes in like a driving wind and blows us up onto our feet and out into the street and we speak in ways we never thought we could and we live into questions we never imagined. In the end we learn to care less if there are any answers. Let your vocation be the question and the Spirit will reveal the rest.
Fr. Jeffrey Cooper, C.S.C., is an Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of Portland. Learn more about the work of Holy Cross priests and brothers in the field of education to bring hope to the Church and world.