by Father Scott Wallisch
The synoptic Gospels include a familiar episode referred to as the story of the rich young man.
I think it is also appropriate to call this the story of the “attached” young man. The problem was not his riches, but his sad unwillingness to follow Jesus’ challenge to donate it all. Attachment to those riches was his real problem.
This story can be instructive for anyone who is discerning his or her vocational call or trying to live out that vocation. Essentially, this story is instructive for everyone.
Detachment is critical at every point in discernment. For the attached young man, clinging to his possessions kept him from discerning and embracing Christ’s call to follow. We, too, can be deterred by our attachments from following the steps of discernment.
At the beginning of the vocational journey, young persons often are too attached to their own plans. We have a tendency to make plans that look like everyone else’s plans. These dreams often have the usual motivators of money, power, fame and success, which are not God’s motivators for us.
If we can be willing to release our grip on our plans for the sake of finding God’s plan, we then have to listen prayerfully to God. This involves detaching from the tendency to fill up our free time with our phones, TVs, computers and the hundreds of other distractions that vaporize the time that could be spent with God.
Once we detach from distractions to listen to God’s call, God first guides us to see if we are called to either marriage or celibacy. This is very difficult to discern if we have already entered into dating relationships, becoming attached to our boyfriend or girlfriend.
If we free up our hearts, though, some of us discern a possible call to the celibate life. The next necessary detachment is often from fear of what family and friends will think of such a radical life choice.
The need for other detachments continues in vocational discernment, but those who are willing to detach over and over are rewarded with the peace of knowing they are living out the life God intended for them. And once we have embraced God’s vocation for us, we only find complete joy if we detach from unhealthy bonds to things like possessions, job status and excessive comfort in order to love those that God has placed in our lives.
The story of the attached young man is very informative for discerners. The lesson we learn is the great vocational paradox: Our willingness to follow Christ and detach from that which we think will make us happy means that we will never have to walk away sad.