I have made one or two important discoveries during my time in Holy Cross. One such discovery is that nothing is certain. Although Jesus Christ makes many promises to those who follow God’s will, He never promises perfect certainty along the way. In fact, certainty is one of the few things Jesus refuses to promise.
I have spent several years discerning a life in Holy Cross. Until recently I had expected to arrive at an absolute conviction that this life is for me – or not for me. Yet the more I discern and pray, the more evasive that certainty becomes. And I now realize I will never have it. Despite our best efforts to wipe the looking glass clean, it always remains somewhat cloudy. But good discernment is what makes the opaque glass translucent. Although I can receive a great deal of confidence, Jesus will not offer me a safe and perfect certainty about my next step. And despite my disappointment, this seems right to me.
The point of vocation is to be called beyond myself, beyond my small imagination into the wide and dangerous imagination of God. If my path were certain, my life would lose all its wonder. There would be no room for surprise. Vocation and risk go hand-in-hand. Vocation is a loving dare to step into the unknown and to discover a love totally other than myself. Basil Moreau calls this love a “pressing invitation” (Directory of Devotional Prayer, 3). It is left to my decision – and yet how could I refuse?
No, Jesus does not give me absolute transparency regarding my future. No, I cannot expect to be 100% certain about the details of my biography, or even my next step. But Jesus does promise a number of consolations which urge me onward. Chief among these, He promises me Himself.
In his Spiritual Exercises, Basil Moreau boils the spiritual life down to its simplest form, and the reader learns to desire one thing, and one thing alone. In a particularly exquisite passage, Jesus says:
“If you are alone, I will be your companion; if you are weak, I will be your strength. If you are poor, I will be your treasure; if you are hungry, I will be your food. If you are afflicted, I will be your comfort and joy. If you are sluggish, I will lift you up; if you are exhausted, I will be your support” (Spiritual Exercises).
The promise is simple. Jesus says “I… I… I will be your reward. Hope in me! Do not look past me! I am everything you need.”
My life in Holy Cross is training me to be satisfied with nothing other than Jesus Christ. Religious life, in essence, is an attempt to remove all other things from my grasp so that I can cling to my heart’s deepest desire and everlasting reward. Yes, I must even let go of any hopes for certainty along the way – because the Living God dares me to cling to something much more satisfying. Jesus Himself will be my companion, my treasure, my food, my joy. Of this (and this alone) I can be certain.
Mr. Karl Romkema, C.S.C., is in his third year of temporary vows with the Congregation of Holy Cross. He and his brother seminarians are currently studying in the M.Div. program at the University of Notre Dame. Karl is originally from Clarkston, MI.