A reflection by Fr. Franco Cagnasso, PIME
Translated from Italian by Fr. Steven Baumbush, PIME
Lord God, You know me. You know when I sit and when I stand. You have me always in your heart. I thank you for this, Lord. You know what will make me happy. Guide me along the path that is best for me. Whether you are calling me to priesthood, religious life, married life, single life, or any of the many lay ministries: Show it to me, Lord. Bless me, guide me, and be my lord, so that whatever road I choose, I may choose it for your glory. Amen.
In this presentation of the missionary vocation, I intend to give some initial guidelines. It is up to the individual to go beyond them into further reflection. Most of what I will say could apply to any journey of vocational discernment, whether to the missionary life or other religious calling.
Reflections starting with my own personal experience
Two factors influence the guidelines.
The first is my own vocation, my personal experience. I too yearn to tell God, "Here I am, send me." I too seek to understand where He wants to send me. I'm not talking about a yearning of the past when I was in the seminary. Nor am I referring even to that moment when I had already said yes and was about to be ordained and enter PIME. I feel this same yearning today. Even today, my question is: 'Lord, what do you want?' And I strive to have a real openness to the will of God: not in regard to the basic vocational choice, but in regard to the daily choices that life presents. Like you, I ask myself what the Lord really wants of me today. I have moments of uncertainty and moments of joy, and I discover that this is good, because it is a journey in the Lord.
So, what I say to you is born out of my own personal experience, which, like anyone's, is deep and complex. A vocation is not something which is attached to an already formed personality as if I were a house already built which could be painted white, or red or green according to one's taste; on the contrary, it shapes the very life of the person.
The Prophet Jeremiah, speaking of his vocation, writes: "The word of the Lord came to me: Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I dedicated you; a prophet to the nations, I appointed you" (Jer 1:4-5).
What is he saying? Realize that you have existed in the mind of God and that from all eternity the Lord has chosen you to be the person you are coming to be. Therefore, your vocation is tied in with your personality, your way of thinking, your relationships with others, your enjoyments, and everything else besides. Influencing these guidelines I am proposing to you is another factor: the vocation and experience of my many confreres.
As a member of PIME, I share the same calling as my confreres. I try to share my life with them as brothers. None of them had chosen me; we found our- selves together. Some had been there before me, some entered with me, some came after. With a few others I was able to develop a deeper relationship as we travelled life's road together. It was more than a superficial acquaintance! To respond to God, "Here I am; send me", accepting his call and walking together with others means to begin a journey whose final outcome is uncertain. This kind of openness may mean that you end up a pastor in China, or a Scripture scholar, a journalist, or a bishop. Maybe you will end up being murdered or maybe you will drown in a lake, as happened to two of my friends a very short time after they had arrived in their missions. Truly the Lord is guiding history. It is important and fascinating to discover that the common denominator among missionaries is this openness to God. Taking a look at a missionary vocation doesn't mean that everything becomes fixed and there is no leeway. Rather, it means embarking on an adventure: we don't know where it will lead us, but its fundamental characteristic consists in a joyous openness to God and faith that it is He who is guiding us.
These are the two personal elements from which I have tried to draw these reflections. That which gives light to all the rest is the Word of God, read and absorbed by the Church. These are the criteria which verify my personal story and the stories of my confreres.
A vocation is the work of God
"This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends, if you do as I command you. I do not call you servants, because a servant does not know what his master is about. I call you friends, because everything I have received from the Father, I have made known to you. You did not choose me; it was I who chose you, to go forth and bear fruit. Your fruit must endure, so that all that you ask of the Father in my name, he will give you. This is my commandment: love one another" (Jn I5:I2-I7).
This statement of Jesus gives us in synthesis an element which absolutely must be present in every true vocation. The very word "vocation’ indicates that there is `someone who calls us." It is as if someone inside us turns to us and says, "Come." So, we do not choose to be called; rather, it comes from the initiative of another. A vocation, when it is authentic, is not calculated. It is not some kind of rational analysis in which I say to myself. "Here are the pros and the cons." Then, I do all the adding and subtracting and conclude that it is possible to set out on this road. Such a method might work for choosing some profession. But the call of the Gospel is always an initiative of God, an initiative which is free and therefore, in a certain sense, unexplainable. It's up to us to respond yes or no.
The Bible, beginning with the Old Testament, is very clear on this point. Abraham, Moses, the Prophets, David, Mary of Nazareth, the Apostles, Paul - everyone without exception - find themselves faced with the surprise of a vocation. They didn't say, "I would like to be prophet, if I'm able to do it." The proof of this is that those who wanted to become prophets without having been chosen by the Lord were cursed by the true prophets and punished by God.
Something extraordinary happens to change the direction of everyday life
The occurrences of vocation in the Bible are diverse. Normal people find themselves unexpectedly called to a project they didn't initiate, which doesn't fit in with their original plans for their lives. They are walking in one direction and at a certain point something makes them turn, something places them in front of a new project. They are dealt an unexpected change of plans which scares them and makes them feel inadequate. The first instinctive reaction is to take it slow, to resist. In some cases the change is so dramatic that one passes from being a persecutor to being a missionary. (Recall the vocation of Paul, the persecutor of Christians. who became the messenger of Christ.)
There are images which indicate the hardship of such a call. Paul speaks of a thorn in the flesh; Isaiah tells of a burning coal placed in his mouth to purify him. We hear of a pressing question to which one must respond, as was the case for Mary of Nazareth: the angel is there, waiting, and you cannot simply do anything; you must respond!
When it is the Lord who calls, we are forced to pass from the plane of abstract possibility, of hypotheses, perhaps of dreams, to the plane of personal response. One might even already have thought of becoming a missionary, a priest, a sister, a monk, or of dedicating oneself to the poor, or who knows how many other things. We can think these things a thousand times and still not really get hold of them precisely.
Instead, the decision to get into serious vocational discernment comes when one realizes that he or she personally, a real flesh-and-blood person with a real name, actually can become a missionary, a priest, a sister, a monk, or dedicated to the poor. It is a little like saying: "I would like to get married." You become involved in a precise and personal manner only at the moment that you realize you could marry a real, specific person, who, in turn, wants to marry you specifically. Then, everything changes: a general idea has become a project. You are in a "vocational" situation when you realize that you are facing, not a general hypothesis, but a choice which truly involves you. You then understand that your yes will change your life from within, will give it a new direction. Saying yes to a vocation begins a change in your life, something that is new and creative, while a no leaves the situation as it is.
By way of explanation, let's say a variety of choices or possible actions present themselves to me. I realize each option would affect me in a different way. I begin making mental calculations and finally choose one of the options.
A vocational urge, instead, makes one of those choices stand out clearly: I understand that, if I say yes to this choice, everything changes in my life; while if I say no I begin my search all over, I find myself in uncertainty again, I return to the life I've always lived. The vocational intuition is a proposal that comes from the outside, and at the same time it is profoundly within me; it does not permit me to remain neutral, for it is a decisive moment. A response is required.
Yes given in community
It is important to point out yet another element: the Church's role in the call on our lives. An authentic vocation is not simply a choice and not the result of calculation, but rather comes from outside of ourselves. So we should be open to what the Church indicates. Because I feel attracted to become a priest or a sister or a consecrated lay person does not mean that I have the right to become one. Because I feel the desire to be a missionary does not automatically mean that I have the vocation to be one. The only way in which "feeling" or "desire" would be the criteria would be if the vocation were mine: my possession, fruit of my own plans. But this isn't so!
A vocation which puts us at the service of others, at the disposition of a community (in our case a non-Christian one), must necessarily be verified by the community. I can give my definitive yes only when the Church gives its yes, when the Church faces me and says: you are called by God, therefore I call you to be a missionary; I send you, and I confirm you.
To explain, I can say there are two closely connected levels to a vocation.
The more profound level is the call of my whole person to be open to God. I must say yes to Him, to that which He asks of me without conditions. Abraham is the most poignant example of this putting oneself into the hands of God. "Leave your country; I will give you another." But where? When? Along what roads? Finally, Abraham feels himself called to sacrifice his son in order to remain faithful to this total openness.
Then there is the level which I would call "operative", in which the openness becomes oriented to something specific. Moses hears the call: "Go to Pharaoh and tell him to let my people go." Often, from the point of view of psychology and experience, we arrive at the above profound level by starting at the operative level. So we may begin with something we feel we must do for the Lord. In any case, it is indispensable that we arrive at the profound level, which renders the whole person open to God. Again, Abraham can help us understand, through the mysterious episode of his son Isaac. Abraham is convinced that God is requesting this sacrifice, and he prepares to carry it out. However, at the last minute he understands that God doesn't want the life of Isaac, only his faith. The conclusion is not that Abraham was mistaken, but that he was truly a man of faith, ready to complete the sacrifice of his son, but also able to stop; he was not bound to his project and not stymied in his way of understanding the will of God.
We're dealing with an analogy, drawn from an episode which could be examined and explained much more deeply. But it can help us to understand the significance in our own lives of the hardship involved in vocational discernment and entrusting ourselves to the judgment of the Church. Someone may leave the seminary after many years, convinced he is not called to the priesthood, without having been mistaken about his vocation. If leaving did not result from some momentary whim or out of laziness, but rather the years in the seminary had been pursued with real openness to the possibility of a vocation, then certainly he has matured greatly in faith.
The person who feels called to take a certain path in life only to be told by the Church, "It is not the right path," need not be dismayed. That person has proved his sincerity because he chose a difficult discernment process. He is called to choose between his projected path in life (for example, to become a priest) and the clear indications of the will of God. He is invited to move from the operative level to the profound level of vocation, to say yes to God and no to himself. Not only that, but also the one who has been confirmed by the Church in the call he has felt must absolutely go to the profound level, to take on the attitude of Abraham. Otherwise, he will very soon strike out on his own initiative and will end up putting his own will first rather than God's.
The fear and beauty of a vocation
"The Reign of God is like a treasure, buried in a field; a man finds it, and buries it again. Then he goes, filled with joy, and sells everything he has to buy that field. The Reign of God is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he finds one really precious pearl, he goes and sells everything he has, and buys it." (Mt 13:44).
Having reflected upon vocation as the initiative of God and not our own, now we can try to look at its purpose. What does God want me to do with this vocation? To what is the Lord calling me? Let us take a look at the mission and its more specific aspects.
In general terms, it seems important to me to underline a common aspect of authentic vocations: God always calls us to something beautiful, to a treasure.
God does not call us to sadness, nor to boredom, nor to sacrifice for its own sake. He does not want us to be frustrated and scrupulous. He does not want us to say yes only because we fear that otherwise some disaster will befall us, nor to follow Him only because we are afraid of punishment.
When God calls us, it's always in order to give us something. It might be the land promised to Abraham, or the liberation of the Israelites through Moses. God called Mary in order to give human flesh to the Word, so that through Him, all of humanity might be united with the Father. This feeling of joy which fills the mind and heart, this feeling of expectation that I am about to receive something totally fulfilling, must always be present in a vocation. In fact, it is one sign of an authentic vocation.
But there is another aspect to our vocation which we must also recognize: God's invitation and call can be frightening. In fact, it must be frightening. Abraham and all the others, including Mary, were disturbed and confused in the face of the God's call. This happens because at first the call seems to be too high, too difficult, and too beautiful for us.
Let's be clear here. If the call we seem to perceive frightens us in an oppressive way, if we're afraid that responding to it will not be fulfilling for us, this can be a sign that it is not the right call for us. An authentic vocation must attract us and scare us at the same time. It is frightening only because it seems beautiful, too great, not for other reasons. This is a sacred fear, recognizing the distance between ourselves and the greatness of the one who calls. But at the same time, we must know that a response to this invitation will make us grow in our humanity that it will indeed be fulfilling for us. The calling which we feel must attract us as something which makes us more faithful (Mt I9:27-20), which makes us friends of God (Jn I5:I4). If, instead, it seems to be a burden or a pain to us, this could be a good indication that we are called to something else.
The same principle is at work in married life. There is both fear and attraction. If there is only fear, if I'm afraid that marrying this person will make my life less meaningful and authentic, then it's pretty clear that I'm not called to marry that person. Instead, if I see that my life with this person will make me more authentic and truly fulfilled, even if I have to face some difficulties (and we know that everyone has to face some struggles in their lives), then I can be confident in getting married, even though there may be some fear of an unknown future.
In an authentic vocation, fear and desire must be united. If there is no fear, we could say that it is simpleminded and unrealistic. If there is no desire, we can be sure that we are not called to this particular way of life, because the Lord only calls us to that which will be beautiful and fulfilling for us. There must also be "envy" for those who are already responding to God's call. It's as if we were saying: `Look! They've done it. I'd like to do it too, but I'm afraid. Yet, in spite of the fear, I feel attracted! Jesus, in fact, said, `...that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete’ (Jn 15:11). The Holy Spirit is joy and peace, and when he calls, he gives joy and peace in abundance.
Openness to leave everything
"There is one thing more you must do: sell all that you have, and give it to the poor, then, come and follow me" (Lk 18:22). A vocation is always personal. Practically, it is my way of being Christian, of following Jesus. Everyone is called to follow Jesus, but each one has his or her own way. I must discover my way of being a follower of Christ. One fact, however, is common to all disciples, Jesus says: If you want to follow me, there's only one thing you need calculate first. Are you able to leave everything else behind to be my follower?
Consider the following parable of Jesus:
"If one of you decided to build a tower, will he not first sit down and calculate the outcome to see if he has enough means to complete the project? He will do that for fear of laying the foundation and then not being able to complete the work, for all who saw it would jeer at him saying, ‘That man began to build what he could not finish.’ Or if a king is about to march on another king to do battle with him, will he not sit down first and consider whether, with ten thousand men, he can withstand an enemy coming against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, he will send a delegation while the enemy is still at a distance, asking for terms of peace. In the same way, none of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his possessions" (Lk 14:28-33).
When Jesus speaks about calculating the outcome of the tower or counting the number of soldiers, it almost seems to contradict what I said before: that a vocation is not the result of a calculation. But there's no contradiction. The subject of this parable is the requirement that `the one who follows me must leave everything.’ So, Jesus is saying that we must consider very carefully whether or not we are able to give up everything else in order to follow Jesus. This is the only calculation to make. A vocation must absorb us totally; it doesn't leave room for any reservations. If we put conditions on our response, if we say `yes, but...’ or `yes, if...,’ what we're really doing is preparing an escape hatch, a way to back out of our commitment if things don't go our way. ("Whoever puts his hand to the plow but keeps looking back is not worthy of me" (Lk 9:62). We all want our lives to have meaning; we all want to be fulfilled and to have a sense of peace within ourselves. If I say, "Yes, I'll follow Jesus", but think that I need other things to be content (goods, pleasures, freedom to do what I want); if I make a conditional response, with the desire to maintain complete control over my life; then I have not realistically considered what is required to be a disciple.
The more radical I am in renouncing everything in order to follow Jesus, the more I find true joy, freedom and fulfilment. The more I abandon myself to God, the more I really find myself. And if so many vocations today seem to be halfway, a little sad and obscure, I believe that the explanation is in not understanding the radical nature of our call to give up everything to find ourselves again and to say yes without reservations we can receive the gift of peace, of human fulfilment, of serenity, of joy. And this includes the joy of friendship. Have you ever noticed that the more a person is preoccupied with finding friends, the fewer friends he or she finds. When, instead, one seeks to be a friend to others, one finds many friends in return.
Will I be content? Will I be happy? Will I be peaceful? Will I be fulfilled? Will I find what I seek? If I stop grasping so much for them, God will give these things to me!
A vocation to celibacy
The vocation which you are attempting to discern is a vocation to celibacy, whether as a dedicated lay person, a priest or a sister. This is poverty in a most radical form, because it touches not only what one possesses or might possess (physical goods), but also what one is, in one's flesh, in one's very existence.
Every one of us is made for love, to complete ourselves in a loving relationship with a woman or man, to have children; and this need is a part of who we are, part of our person. In fact, God created us male and female. Jesus calls some, asking: "Come with me, giving up a part of who you are"; and, he says it in a very forceful way: "...make yourselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of God" (Mt 19:10-12). Saying this, he knows that this demand is so exacting, that not everyone can follow it, nor even understand it! Those who can understand it are only those to whom it has been given; that is, only those who have been called through the power of God Himself. It's important to take a serious look at celibacy. Thinking only about the mission and the how of carrying it out is not enough. We must be aware and clearheaded about such an important element of our makeup.
The person called to celibacy is a normal person who feels a need for love and an attraction to sex in the body and in the heart. Human beings have a need to complete their personalities with that of another person, a woman or a man. Another need is for pleasure, not only to experience physical enjoyment, but to be able to say to another: you please me. A further need is to have children in whom life continues.
Now, these attractions remain when one is called. Throughout the lifetime of a person, in different times, ways and intensifies, they make themselves felt. Celibacy is not born from the absence of interest in these things, nor from indifference toward them. Rather, celibacy means the knowledgeable renunciation of these good and beautiful things. Even as we recognize the goodness of these attractions, we do not idealize them, because we know that human sexuality always has its problems and contradictions.
What we are saying is this: celibacy calls me to give up something that is normally a great gift for a person; therefore, I must entrust myself totally to God in this poverty, in this radical renunciation, believing that it is up to Him to fill up this void which has been created in my life.
And it is a real void. Some people will argue that the celibate life can be just as rich as the married life. Maybe these arguments have a certain psychological significance, but I don't believe they are sufficient; much less can they give us strength in time of difficulty. I give back to God a treasure which He has given me, and I do so because He asks it of me. Thus, I remain with empty hands, and it is up to Him to fill them.
Celibacy is not chosen in order to dedicate oneself better to preaching, prayer, study and the apostolic life. This can and must be the case, but it is not the fundamental motive. It is not a calculation of quantity, but an act of faith in God. When Mary of Nazareth accepted the vocation of virginity, it was not with the reasoning: I have made the choice for virginity so that I can become the mother of the Son of God. When she made the choice for virginity, she simply said: I will not have children. She placed her life and this radical poverty into the hands of God. It was, then, the initiative of God, and not her calculations that filled her, making her the mother of Jesus!
When we embrace celibacy, we are left with something missing, but we believe and hope God will fill the void according as he wills. We are certain that God will fill us up, but we don't know how it will take place.
We can ask, then, what is necessary in order to live celibacy'? And even before that, what is required in order to discern this vocation? It requires a strong sense of the eternal and of mission. We feel profoundly that, as rich as the married life is, it is still not everything. We sense that there is much more out there, a sense which makes it worthwhile to run the risk of giving up that richness believing God will fill me with other things.
Also, an interior discipline - true, authentic, and deep in our hearts and senses - is required if we are to orient everything that we are to the goal of our vocation, without feeling that we have totally lost out.
And this is something which we acquire, something that requires work.
The vocation to celibacy requires the ability to have human relationships which are serene and in a certain sense satisfying, the ability to have authentic friendships with men and women - friendships which are deep, constructive and clearly subordinate to the mission. The friendship must not restrict the mission, but rather help it and be flexible in relation to the mission. There is no criterion which says: I make friends up to this point and not beyond, because who knows what will happen? The mission to which I have been called sets the standard.
Celibacy for the Kingdom requires an interior life of profound personal prayer; the ability for self-reflection; the capacity to recover, to ask pardon, to help oneself, to live a consistent sacramental life.
Finally, it requires the maturity to know that if I say yes to the celibate life, this does not make me free from desires and temptations. Just as a man who marries is not guaranteed that he will not feel attracted to another woman, so too the one who accepts the celibate life is not without this kind of trial. It seems a bit pathetic that one might say in certain crises: "I feel attracted to this person; therefore I was never called." That's not true! If one's vocation has been authentically discerned, these moments of trial can be faced. And when they are faced sincerely and faithfully, one's commitment can become even stronger and deeper than it was before.
The celibate is not a person of hard heart, but a person of deep sensitivity, who continues to grow and mature. The celibate is continually drawn by God to offer up everything: one's victories, one's failures, one's progress and one's uncertainty.
The mystery of the cross
"Whoever would be my disciple must take up his cross and follow me" (Mk 8:34). Once again, we have an apparent contradiction here. The Lord calls me to something very beautiful which makes the cost of leaving everything worthwhile, and at the same time He tells me to carry the cross. We are entering a discussion which is central to the Gospels, and one which is perhaps the most difficult to understand and accept. That shouldn't surprise us too much: the first disciples of Jesus had the same problem. They were with Jesus a long time, and they heard his teaching, saw his actions. But they found it difficult to understand when He spoke to them of the cross. It was a prospect that they didn't want to accept. Jesus had prepared them for it in thousands of ways; he spoke of it to them, he repeated it to them, he even reprimanded them about it. But when the true moment of the cross came, what did they do? They ran away. This tells us that they didn't understand this central teaching; or at least, they understood it only in their heads, and not in their hearts and lives.
And the same happens to us, who are certainly no braver than Peter or Bartholomew. When I arrive at a certain kind of cross, I say, "What kind of joke is this?" The cross in the Gospel sense means contradiction, doubt, opposition, persecution, being cast out. When these arrive, they must be faced from the motive of the Gospel.
The cross is there because I want to follow Jesus. The cross can be external or internal. There can be a type of trial that might come to me not from others but from inside myself. Yes, I want to follow Jesus, but within me there is opposition, resistance, fear; the suffering and the struggle that result is the cross which I must bear. Paul says: "I have tried to be free from this thorn in the flesh, from this demon which tortures me, and the Lord has told me: my grace is enough for you." Thus this struggle, this interior cross remains. We carry it; but we remain confident that with the grace we will have the strength we need. On the other hand, our cross could be something that comes from the outside, like contradictions, mockery, divisions, misunderstandings or persecution, because of faith in Jesus.
Be well aware that the cross is indeed a defeat. Maybe this is what the disciples didn't want to accept. Some might say that we can take on certain struggles because we know that they will lead to ultimate victory, that in the end we will prevail and win. That would be similar to climbing a mountain: we endure the difficulty and pain, knowing that we're moving forward, and finally we'll make it to the top. But this is not the cross, as seen by Jesus. Instead, the cross really is an experience of defeat. I accept it with trust in God, not in my own power. It's not a matter of endurance or holding out until a goal is reached. Quite the contrary: Jesus knew that the suffering of the cross would lead him to death. But he trusted. He trusted in God who knows how to turn this defeat into victory. The victory of the cross is a defeat which is accepted. By accepting our cross, we remain faithful so as to fulfil the plan of God, which is based upon the logic of love. (See Mt 10: 16-20 or the experience of Paul, 1 Cor 4:1-13; 2 Cor 12:10).
One could certainly ask, at this point, how these two things can stand together: the previously mentioned affirmation of a vocation as a treasure and fulfilment of life itself, and now this talk of the cross as defeat and death. The contradiction is resolved in the life of Christ. We are united to Him, just as a branch is to a tree. Consequently, even in suffering, in doubt, in the failure of plans, we can remain in peace and persevere in joy. His resurrection guarantees us that the defeat, which is accepted to remain faithful to the Father out of love, will be transformed by Him into fonts of new life, into a victory far superior to that which could have been accomplished through our own efforts or through compromising our commitment. Jesus says: "Blessed are you when they persecute you." The disciples in the Acts of the Apostles, after having been sentenced to flogging, were "filled with joy" because they were able to give witness to the Lord.
Using our reason, it doesn't make sense! But if we try to love, to have true faith, we experience that this is not a contradiction. The cross is an absurdity and craziness to those who don't believe; for those who believe, it contains the depths of love and the wisdom of those who trust in God.
A trust which makes life worthwhile
"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6:68). This is the profession of faith, spoken by Peter to Jesus at a time when many were abandoning him because he was preaching a hard and difficult lesson.
In living out our vocation, we need to truly ask ourselves just how much Jesus counts in our life. To sustain a vocation, especially a vocation of special consecration, of celibacy, of missionary commitment, it cannot be enough to have a Christianity based only on values, even on true Christian values. Do these attract me? Wonderful; that's a good thing. But at a certain point, the values are simply abstract entities. If the values and ideals don't return me to the person of Jesus, experienced as living in me and through me, I cannot persevere in my vocation of consecration.
The vocational journey is authentic when Jesus conquers our life, fascinates us, attracts us; then we can say yes, that radical yes which gives value to everything, which can make it worthwhile to be a priest or a sister, as it does to become married, to be a consecrated missionary or lay missionary, or any thing else.
Those who followed the ideas of Jesus, but not the person of Jesus, went away when they understood his real message. The apostles, on the other hand, didn't have clear ideas; they didn't understand the values He was proposing. But they understood Jesus, and they loved Him; they were touched by Him, they trusted and they followed; and if they ran off in fear, soon enough they returned. That's the way it must be for us, who need an ever deepening personal relationship with Him. The one who is called must know that from this moment on it is impossible to live without Christ, because then our life would be empty, sad and insignificant.
A word of caution: especially for missionaries it is important to know that people can indeed live without Christ. The missionary meets so many people who have never known Christ, but who go forward, and progress very well, and might also be deeply religious. There are, for example, Moslems, or Buddhists who are deeply religious without knowing Christ. So we must not become so narrow-minded as to think that those who have not found Jesus live lives of sin and nonsense.
But certainly one reaches true fullness only in Him. Those who don't know Him can receive Him, through the mysterious ways of God, like reflected light. But those who have met Him and have been called can no longer live without Him. Otherwise, we become like the rich young man who did not accept the call and "went away sad."
We must be able to say, with Peter, "It's true; I can also say no to the Lord, but then, where do I go?" In moments of crisis I will say to the Lord, "Listen, I'm tired. I don't understand what you want; I don't understand what you're saying to me. But I don't know any other way to go. So do me the favor of holding me; make me understand what you want." Remember what Peter said to Him: "Only you have words which make sense, words of eternal life, which go down to the depths of the human heart." This word and this experience must also be ours.