Father Matthew Keller thought he was through with classic cars. The priest of Gallup, New Mexico, featured in this issue of OSV Newsweekly (Pages 16-17), had restored classic cars as a hobby in his teens, but as a priest, he’d imagined he would be “driving a Honda Civic the rest of my life.”
But God wasn’t done with his hobby. And to Father Keller’s surprise, he now finds himself working with a team to restore classic cars as a way to raise money for the education of seminarians in a diocese that is struggling financially.
Father Keller discovered firsthand the happy truth that God can use those gifts and talents that give us joy and aren’t necessarily at odds with our life’s vocation. Ultimately, avocation and vocation are linked.
Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman, whose own journey included a perhaps surprising conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism, reflected in a prayer on how God had created him (meaning everyone) for some purpose. “He does nothing in vain,” Newman wrote, and “wherever I am, I can never be thrown away.”
This is true faith in a God who is himself faithful and who gives us our gifts with great purpose — always in charge, but wanting our cooperation, wanting to see us discover our gifts and find joy in using them. It’s a vision at odds with the extreme individualism of contemporary culture, in which people are always expected to have a plan. And it’s expected to be a big plan, in scope and ambition. Young people in particular feel pressured to have a clearly delineated path toward success, even as the not-so-young sometimes struggle to provide them with the opportunities and resources to succeed.
This individualism is at odds with what the Faith asks of us — seeking to discern humbly the will of God. And yet the faith-driven life surpasses all in terms of results.
The great work that God invites us into — whether understood as a tapestry, mosaic or painting — is one that only God can see fully.
The work isn’t finished, and we don’t have the proper perspective to appreciate fully (or even partly) what is being created with us and around us.
This raises the importance of prayer, of always returning to the one who understands how we best can use our gifts, who is always in control and ever inviting us into deeper communion.
We never know how God will use our gifts, let alone what our legacy might be. An event like the beatification of Capuchin Father Solanus Casey in Detroit on Nov. 18 provides a glimpse of how God indeed can use the gifts of unlikely people in surprising ways to accomplish tremendous ends — and even miracles.
Even if we don’t achieve the spiritual serenity of John Henry Newman’s prayer, we all should be able to relate to the words of the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005: “I am comforted by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and even act with insufficient instruments.” That insight from a brilliant and holy shepherd should instill great trust in us for what God has planned.
In this life, we will never know the scope of what God has planned for us. But staying attuned to him, listening to him, being open to his surprises and to participating with him helps us use our gifts not only to better ourselves, but to better the world. This cooperation with God is the fruit of prayer, and it is the call to holiness.
OSV Editorial Board: Don Clemmer, Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott Richert, Greg Willits, York Young