To Change the World, Know the One Who Made the World

I enjoy telling people that there is mathematical evidence that the older we become the less we age. Here’s the proof. A child ages one hundred percent between his or her first and second birthdays. An adult ages just two percent between his or her fiftieth and fifty-first birthdays. Whatever difference a year makes, the calendar differences get smaller by the percentage as the years go on. Of course this math is just a statistical trick meant to mollify those who lament the passing of youth and dread the approach of life’s “old fogey” stage.

My wife Elaine and I felt like “old fogies” for the first time recently and so we can better appreciate the comfort of whatever ruse it takes to minimize the aging process.

The fall pattern of rainy days prompted me in October to look for the type of boots I remember wearing when younger, the kind with the metal clasps, and that can be pulled over one’s shoes. We went to a local mall and discovered that no store carried the style. In one shop, a young saleswoman was mystified when I asked if her establishment offered “boots that fit over shoes.” She turned with a puzzled look to her manager, who told us that no, nothing like that was in stock.

As we walked from the store and while still in earshot, the saleswoman shared with the manager that she had never heard of such a thing. The manager replied that these kinds of boots were sold there “years ago.” Elaine and I laughed as we returned to our car and congratulated each other on our official entrance into “old fogeyville.”

The Avila household is entering a time of transition. Our daughter Miriam is preparing for the leap from high school to college. Whether Miriam moves into a dorm or commutes from home, life will be changing for all of us. Elaine and I are beginning to contemplate anew what God may be calling us to do as the more intensive stages of parenting start to recede.

Regardless of the generational differences, the same truth applies to Miriam’s choice of college and our choice of how to live once our daughter goes to college--God continues to call each of us to make our corner of the world a better place according to His development plan.

Sometimes the assignments shift and the activities change. No matter one’s age, discernment about “what I should do when I grow up” remains necessary.

In “Charity in Truth,” the recent encyclical on justice, Pope Benedict XVI ties the issue of vocation to the issue of social development. Quoting from “Progress of Peoples,” Pope Paul VI’s earlier encyclical, the Holy Father writes that “progress, in its origin and essence, is first and foremost a vocation: ‘in the design of God, every man is called upon to develop and fulfill himself, for every life is a vocation’” (Charity in Truth, no. 16).

Pope Benedict’s teaching on social justice emphasizes the importance of lifting the professional vision of what is necessary for social development above the level of technical proficiency. Those engaged in a professional response to human needs must become attuned to the transcendent nature of the human being, God’s special creation. Professionals can contribute towards authentic human development only through a discipline of obedience to God’s love and truth.

During law school, I read an article by Notre Dame Law professor and federal judge Kenneth Ripple entitled “Personal and Career Decisions during the Professional School Years--The Spiritual Dimension.” Judge Ripple offered a discernment process for law students (applicable to any profession) based loosely on the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius. This article helped me to find my first professional calling, working as a pro-life lobbyist for Massachusetts Citizens for Life.

Among other steps, Judge Ripple advised readers to reflect on those times when they have experienced the closeness of God and not to limit one’s attention only to those past activities undertaken with the goal of building one’s resume. One should be able to detect distinct patterns in the entirety of one’s life which reveal God’s past attempts to establish a relationship of loving guidance. This pattern, and the relationship it reveals, provides the key for discerning one’s vocation.

Judge Ripple wrote in part: “What you do in the future ought to be part of an ongoing relationship with [God]--your decision in the matter at hand is part of an ongoing series of invitations and responses between you and God which will ultimately result in your sanctification.”

Judge Ripple’s approach to discerning one’s professional vocation meshes nicely with Pope Benedict’s thoughts on vocation and development. The Holy Father writes for example: “Development requires attention to the spiritual life, a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance upon God’s providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace” (Charity in Truth, no. 79). If we want to change the world, we have to know who made the world.

I recommend Judge Ripple’s article for anyone who is discerning his or her vocation, whether for life in general or for life’s next stage. The article is not available on the internet but anyone interested in reading it can contact me at and I will send you a copy.

Daniel Avila is the Associate Director for Policy and Research of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.