Worthiness or Unworthiness?


‘Vita Consecrata’ series part 8 of 12

from Vita Consecrata #64-71

“Fear not for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are Mine.” These words of comfort and courage the Lord speaks to the prophet Isaiah resonate in the hearts of those who sense the Lord’s call to Religious Life. Although there are as many ways of experiencing this call Blessed John Paul II names two identifying characteristics in Vita Consecrata. First, “the attraction of the person of the Lord Jesus” and second, “the beauty of the total gift of self for the sake of the Gospel.”

For the one being called to Religious Life, the things she once held as essential to her happiness – education, career, possessions – no longer seem to satisfy this place in her heart that longs for more. Instead, her heart begins to be drawn more and more by the very Person of the Lord Jesus. The thought of ‘giving it all away’ for the sake of the Gospel is terrifyingly beautiful.

As she journeys on the path of discernment through daily prayer, spiritual direction, a life steeped in sacramental grace, and an ongoing relationship with the Religious Community she feels drawn towards, the call becomes more clear. The Lord speaks to her heart: “I have called you by name, you are Mine.” Once a woman reaches this point, she may experience feelings of unworthiness.

It’s important to know that feeling unworthy to the call of the Lord is not uncommon. Just take a brief look at the responses of people in the Bible who are called by the Lord. God said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” What was Jeremiah’s response? “Alas, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.” But the Lord responded, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak.”

Then there’s Moses, who was chosen by God to liberate His people from slavery. After the Lord spoke to Moses, he said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” The Lord responded, “Certainly I will be with you; and this shall be a token to you, that I have sent you: When you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

God is with those He calls. He gives them the gifts and graces necessary for the mission He has invited them to.

Another way to look at this feeling of unworthiness is to examine the ways in which one can respond. One response is to withdraw from the call of the Lord, thinking it to be too lofty or impossible to fulfill; trusting more in one’s own weaknesses and inabilities than the power and wisdom of God. In this response, one chooses to remain in the darkness of self-limitations, fearing the unknown and being paralyzed by it. This is a subtle form of pride, choosing self over God’s mercy and love.

The second response leads one to place a radical trust in God, His Love, His Power and His Mercy. St. Therese captures it when she writes, “I am not always faithful, but I never get discouraged, I abandon myself into the arms of Jesus and there I find again all that I have lost and much more besides. Since He has granted it to me to understand the Love of the Heart of Jesus, I confess that He has chased all fear out of my heart. The memory of my faults humiliates me, leads me never to rely on my own strength which is nothing but weakness; but even more this memory speaks to me of mercy and love. When we throw our faults, with a completely filial confidence, into the devouring furnace of Love, how could they not be totally consumed?” A humble acknowledgement of our unworthiness leads one to gratitude at being chosen and blessed by the Lord to participate in His work of redemption.

Through the powerful and never-failing intercession of Our Blessed Mother, let us ask her to help us respond to the Lord with those same words, “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For He has done great things for me and Holy is His Name.”

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This meditation is part 8 of 12 in our series on Blessed John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata.  You can download a copy of this document from the Vatican’s website: www.vatican.va