I just read a George Anderson, S.J., column in America magazine that talked about people coming to a “late vocation,” in particular highlighting the experience of an Austrialian Jesuit who entered the priesthood later in life. The column ended with an important reminder “that God’s call can never come too late, whether to religious life – or to lay people who may also be searching to respond to a call of their own.”
This resonated strongly with me because of my own experience. I was in my early 40s when I returned to Catholicism from Buddhism. Within a couple of years after that, I discerned a call to train as a spiritual director and a retreat director, training that allows me to do the spiritual direction and retreat work I currently do. I remember how plagued with doubts I was during that period.
I had no question the call was a strong and genuine one. Nonetheless it was hard for me to get past the feeling that I was “behind” everyone else. I felt like I was starting so late and sometimes it felt like too late. I felt like I couldn’t possibly “catch-up” to the people who had started doing this a lot younger than I was. And I would start to doubt the call. Who was I to think I had any right to do this at this stage of my life? Look at all these other people who had figured it all out before I did. What was I thinking?
Part of my difficulty was in failing to appreciate at the time the fact that my years as a Buddhist were not “wasted” years in terms of the ministry I began to be trained in. I didn’t see then what I now see – that everything I had done during my years as a Buddhist was part of the process of growth that led me to the point I was then at. And that my experiences in those year contributed in major ways to my ability to minister to others.
The other part was not understanding something of what Anderson is trying to convey in his piece and that I now try to convey to the young people with whom I talk about vocation. The reality is that we don’t discern vocation once and for all. God has different plans for us at different times and that our task is to keep our ears open to hear God and be willing to say yes to whatever it is that God has in mind whenever the invitation arises.
The simple truth is that it is never is too late.