February 21, 2013
Lent is upon us and some things come to mind as I ponder what might be going through a discerner’s heart and mind. Those who are considering a vocation to the priesthood are about to walk into a gold mine of spiritual opportunity since entering into Christ’s Passion with the Church is a powerful set-up for what is to follow, namely Easter and the Resurrection. The question is, “How do I make the most of Lent, and is there any special advice to take in?”
For the purpose of this article I would like to offer an angle that isn’t exactly obvious, but on the other hand, isn’t exactly original. The originality of the following approach has to do with integrating the economic concept of “opportunity cost.” I like the term “opportunity cost” because it requires that one understand the notion of sacrifice. It’s an economic concept that involves measuring the lost value of a particular choice when two or more choices are mutually exclusive.
When calculating the opportunity cost of a decision, one has to be willing to forgo or sacrifice other possibilities. For example, I can choose to either be Catholic or Agnostic but I can’t be both. One reality excludes the other, and so I am forced to choose.
This isn’t to say that all decisions are mutually exclusive. But many are, so when those decisions bear down on me, forcing me to choose, I know that I can fall back on a method of reasoning that weighs the lost benefit of saying yes to one thing and no to another. The lost benefit that results from my decision is the opportunity cost.
Some people hate being forced to choose and can’t seem to stomach the idea of saying no, nervously looking for a win-win solution in every deliberation. They might resent and deny that some, and in fact many, choices necessarily exclude other opportunities. But when it comes to the spiritual life, we can all relax since every no is really a yes! When as a Catholic I say no to Satan I am really saying yes to Jesus and that is quite alright. So if for some reason I were to resent the fact that in saying yes to Jesus that I had to say no to the devil, I might want to rethink my aversion to saying no.
As we journey into Lent, the liturgical season for conversion, it is crucial to make a list of those things to which we want to say yes. This is because if we don’t have an idea of what we are prepared to embrace, Lent risks being reduced to a time when we say no to soda, television, chocolate, or whatever.
It’s alright to give up things during Lent, and it is actually recommended, but every sacrifice isn’t just a no. In sacrifice we encounter a benefit as well. Lent actually presents us with opportunities to not only rule things out but to be appreciative for the upshots of grace that belong to every decision.
However, in the area of discernment, people often get stuck as they calculate what might be lost, thinking that they might be giving up a big career or something along these lines. What is often overlooked is the opportunity cost of not pursuing a vocation to ministry in the Church.
In point of fact, for those in whom a desire to minister is implanted, the opportunity cost is far greater when they decide against discernment. Missing an opportunity for discernment might lead to spiritual atrophy, personal confusion, and regret. It is my hope that for all those discerners paralyzed by the thoughts of what they might lose in discerning a call to ministry, a serene and wise contemplation of the “opportunity cost” of not discerning should also be considered. This Lent is a great time to consider both.
Lent is upon us and some things come to mind as I ponder what might be going through a discerner’s heart and mind.