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Work Out Your Salvation

I’ve been praying recently for understanding on how to handle parenting when children make bad choices or aren’t interested in spiritual things. It is very unclear whether parents, especially of adult children, are to be strict and compel them to fulfill religious duties, or be patient with them allowing them to wander and allow their experience in life to help them understand their religious duties over time.

I really wrestle with these decisions and feel I can make strong arguments on each side. So, I’ve been praying for wisdom here.

Last night, I had a dream where I was sitting in a seminary with a bishop and a bunch of seminarians. The seminarians were asking about discerning vocations and, when the bishop responded to them, he never really answered their questions. The seminarians would look at me as if to say, “He didn’t answer my question.”

Then, however, the bishop spoke to me, privately, and said, “I believe that God determines our vocations before hand, and then works it out in our lives.”

He then went on, in the strange way dreams go, to sing a song (which seemed more like rap), where he narrated the events of a person’s life and showed how the normal progress of life led a person to fulfill his predetermined vocation. As I listened to the story, I realized that was certainly true of my life, and it made use of many of the worldly things I did along the way, even as an unbeliever.

I woke up shortly after this dream and thought of a number of biblical examples. I thought of St. John the Baptist, who was announced as a prophet before he was even concerned, and then consecrated before he was born. His life made no sense without knowledge of his vocation and, by God’s grace, that was made known to us in advance.

I also thought of St. Peter and how he was appointed to be the head of the Church. Upon first meeting him, Jesus said, “Thou shalt be called Peter.” (John 1:42), which we would later learn the meaning of. Yet, this same man struggled throughout his time with Jesus, but these struggles were parts of the working out of his vocation.

Lastly, I thought of St. Paul, who said that God had “separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles.” (Galatians 1:15). Yet, this same man, recognizing this vocation, says that he “persecuted the church of God, and wasted it, and made progress in the Jews’ religion above many of my equals” in my own nation”.

Our view of “vocation” in modern life is that we live as we wish and do our own thing and then, at some point in life, we fix ourselves up and then God “calls us” to do something for him. This, however, is not taught in the Scriptures–and this has a significant influence on the way we look at our lives and the lives of others.

If we think we or others are lost and on our own, challenges, failures and difficulties can be very frustrating. They can lead to depression, all kinds of bad decisions and even suicide. Every negative experience feels like God does not care for us. When we feel like this, we are tempted to take matters into our own hands and try to settle problems by sinning–lying, stealing, cheating, fighting, etc. As we sin more, we feel more abandoned, and life gets darker and darker.

On the other hand, when we understand that God intended for all men to be saved, and that He has already determined our vocation, the difficulties in our lives are understood to be trials intended to strengthen us.

This is true not only for ourselves, but for others around us.

This, I believe, is why Jesus commands us not to judge others: because we don’t know what God is doing in their lives, or where He’s leading them. God’s ways are not our ways and God can do things that we’re not allowed to do.

As parents, we desire our children’s lives to begin with a pretty baptism ceremony and then gradually improve, without trouble, until they end up in a religious community, or seminary or beautiful Catholic wedding ceremony. We want no interruptions, no left turns, no sins, no prodigal son experiences–yet God makes normal use of these things in our lives.

When we look at the lives of the Saints, we don’t find examples of these pretty, easy paths to sainthood that we desire for ourselves and our children. Many of the greatest saints were lost in the midst of their lives. St. Peter publicly denied Christ. St. Paul put Christians to death. St. Augustine had a child with a concubine. St. Francis was known for his foolishness and prodigality as a teenager. St. Teresa of Avila loved romance stories as a child. They were not saintly, and their lives too many difficult turns.

The adults around them misinterpreted the events of their lives because it was assumed that God was not with them, and they were loose in the world–but this was never so. Their sinful youth eventually became an influential part of their saintly future.

As they gained experience, they learned the truth of life, and experienced the patience and mercy of God. They eventually learned, by experience, that “no one is good but God”. Becoming aware of the reality that the God loved them first, they came to love God in return–freely.

Only in this free love of God do men and women become saints. This is what God is leading men and women to throughout their lives, and it’s ugly and difficult for others to live with.

We understand this reality in our own lives, and we can narrate the path by which God led us to know, love and serve Him. We have no problem recounting our sins and bad habits, all the bad decisions we made, and how they all turned out for good in the end.

It is very difficult, however, to allow for this in our children’s lives.

When we consider, however, that God has already determined their vocations and is working it out in their lives, we can be patient and think twice before reacting to every disturbance.



  1. licorr1403 licorr1403 July 26, 2023

    So it’s not that God predestined us to do sinful things but that He ALLOWED us to act in our free will and took those sins, using them to predestine our vocations? He saw all the things we would do (given our free will) and chose a vocation that would best make use of those bad experiences and choices.

    Am I thinking about it rightly? I guess I’m trying to understand how our free will works with God’s goodness in a way that doesn’t contradict or suggest God would make us do something evil through predestination.

    I’m also wondering how much God can influence or restrict our free will. It’s one of the Church’s teachings I haven’t understood completely.

    • lukefaez lukefaez July 31, 2023

      Blaming God for evil acts of men seems kind of like blaming the inventor of a game when a team loses due to one of the players persistently disobeying the rules, so the team played down a man. This inventor wanted people to compete in a fun way through the game, and created rules to follow in order to achieve that end. In creating these rules, he knew of the potential for disobedience, but that shouldn’t be conflated with his willing disobedience into the game.

      Disobedience can be thought of as what is contrary to the interests of continuing the game as planned, and each player has this ability to choose one way or the other. God is responsible for gifting us with consciousness and will, so it would follow that he sees the greater good within the freedom of will. We are finite and can only judge things relative to ourselves, ultimately. We relate stories and ideas and share a general sense of temporality throughout our lifetime, but that’s not enough to possess a complete picture of good and evil. We can only do our best, but God is definitively knowledgeable of all this; He IS the “best”. He sees all that is seen and unseen and understands what true goodness is where we may be confused to see evil, and vice versa.

      With complete knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the players and the rules of the game, you would still be unable to predict the outcome perfectly without understanding the willingness of the players to obey the rules. God has given us the chance to play a higher game with higher rewards, so to speak, than the animals. Our disposition towards the rules of the higher game are determined by God, our will has always been known and was chosen to be so by Him, but that’s a perspective we can never use ourselves, which is why we say it’s “will”. It is effectively so within our context, but I’ll chance saying that God doesn’t know of any will in creation that is not a direct result of His will. It’s not even fair to call what we have “will” in the mind of God, since we’re inevitably chained to the rules of the universe, whereas He is beyond those rules, created them, and thus uniquely understands them.

      I could keep going on and on but I probably sound foolish enough as it is. Hope you see what I’m getting at.

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