By Elise Fernandez
As I prepared to confront life after college, I was faced with a bewildering array of options. While I was certain that I was being called to some sort of service, discerning exactly what program to choose was daunting. Below, I offer three tips for those who also feel called to bring God's love to others.
1. Ask yourself what makes you sad or angry about this world. In the book of Genesis, we are told that the blood of Abel, killed by his own brother, cried out to God for justice. Turn on the news and we can hear this cry continue to sound in our fallen world. We are called by God to partake in his work of righting wrongs. Committing to a service program is an excellent way to begin this work, but it requires serious discernment. To find the right service program for you, it is crucial to know what acts of injustice cry out loudest to you. Whether it is tortured environment you hear loudest, or the sounds of refugees begging for a better life, such injustice can only be met with the fiery passion of love.
2. Know your gifts and talents. When I first considered service programs, so many seemed to be worthwhile. I admired the radical commitment of those who completed medical missions, social work, and other difficult tasks. We often idealize these kinds of commitments because they seem so clearly Christlike. Yet, as Saint Paul tells us, there are many different kinds of gifts and they are all united by the Holy Spirit. With a love of learning and a passion for working with youth, I discovered that my particular gifts were best suited to a program like Operation TEACH, where I could discern whether this vocation of teaching was truly what God was asking of me, and if so in what ways I was called to teach.
3. Always talk to people who have participated, or are participating, in the programs that interest you. When Jesus first sent out his disciples to preach the Gospel, he sent them out in pairs. When God first created man, he realized that it was not good for him to be alone. God himself exists as a communion of three persons. As human beings, we are fundamentally social creatures made in the image and likeness of a trinitarian God. In choosing a service program, we cannot ignore its communal aspect. When I was discerning between programs, it was my experiences with people that helped me choose the right fit. Whether it was the superior conversation I had during my interview with Operation TEACH, or the enjoyment I got out of meeting others applying to the TEACH program, it was the people I met who helped me realize where, and how, I was being called to serve. While I considered other programs with more convenient locations or different financial benefits, I knew that such attractions would mean very little without the support of a strong community.
There are many more tips I could offer for those discerning. However, reading tips and advice can only get you so far. More than anything, you must take the time to listen to God's still small voice. In closing, I leave you with God's promise to each one of us: " For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope."
Elise Fernandez is currently serving with Operation TEACH, which is part of the University Consortium for Catholic Education. All UCCE programs share the common pillars of Spirituality, Community, and Professional Development, and all offer the opportunity to earn a Master's degree while pursuing a vocation in Catholic education.To learn more about UCCE programs, please click here.