Questions, Not Answers

August 2012 — Vol. 2, Issue 1

Fr. Drew Gawrych, C.S.C.


Led by Questions, Not Answers

I entered the seminary because I had a question. Was God calling me to be a priest?

I had a question, but I didn’t have an answer. I didn't know if God was calling me to be a priest. I thought He could be. There were plenty of “signs” pointing to that possibility. I had even caught myself daydreaming at times about being a priest. And yet, there were a lot “signs” pointing to marriage, which had been my dream since childhood. I had often dreamed about being married and having my own family.

Although I had known since high school that I needed to give priesthood a serious look, I had always felt deep down that, in the end, I would mostly likely get married. The question if God was calling me to be a priest had rattled around in my life for years. I had definitely given it some prayer and reflection, but that question had never demanded my full attention, at least for any extended period of time. And it most certainly had never struck me as deeper than my desire to get married and have a family.

All that changed my senior year at Notre Dame. I was in love again. This time, even though she seemed to be everything I had ever dreamed of, something inside me was holding me back. As much as I wanted to date her, I did not feel I could.

At first, I did not know why I felt this way. I had to think and pray about it for a while, but then this answer came welling up from within side me: You are thinking too much about the priesthood. But, it wasn’t really an answer at all, but a question, because most of the thinking I was doing about the priesthood was asking God if He was calling me to be a priest. I did not know if He was calling me or not. Again, I had a question, but I didn’t have an answer.

It took some time, but slowly I began to see that that question was precisely God’s “answer” to my discernment.

God had revealed to me that the deeper question of my heart was not whether He was calling me to marriage (to the girl I was in love with) but whether He was calling me to be a priest. In that, God was showing me the next step I had to take. I had to take a step that would start answering that question of priesthood. Everything else would only be spinning my wheels and wasting my time (and also hers). Once I realized that – and accepted it – I pretty quickly came to the realization that the only place for me to dive into that question was in the seminary.

In a recent post on our vocations blog, Fr. Jeff Cooper, C.S.C., wrote about how discernment, in many ways, is about “forgetting the answers and jumping into the questions.” Rainer Maria Rilke makes basically the same point when counseling a struggling poet in Letters to a Young Poet: “Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” (If you have never read that book, I highly recommend it.)

Simply put, God often guides us forward in our discernment and thus our lives with questions rather than with answers. God does that, in large part, because there is such a harvest of grace for us to reap, as both Fr. Cooper and Rilke articulate so well, from living the questions. That is how we really grow in knowledge and understanding of ourselves and of God. To give the answers too soon would be to lessen the grace and cheapen the way.

The problem comes when we are so busying looking or waiting for answers in our discernment, rather than diving into the questions. That is how many of us get stuck or stalled in our discernment. It is the questions – more so than the answers – that we really need to have our eyes peeled for, because it is through the questions that nag on our hearts, that have deeply embed themselves there that illuminate the next steps forward in our lives. If we can identify, with God’s grace, those questions, then we will know where God is leading us next. Those questions are the “answers” we are looking for.

Prayer from the Tradition


God Alone, Abbey of Gethsemani

A Prayer Trusting in God's Guidance
Thomas Merton
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think
that I am following Your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please You.
And I hope I have that desire
in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything
apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this
You will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.

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