Discerning the path of service
A reflection for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
by Paul Jarzembowski
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” In my younger days, I kept hearing that question thrown at me by friends and family. I never knew how to respond. My heroes were mostly limited to the silver screen, but it really didn’t seem realistic that I would discover the lost ark of the covenant, build a baseball diamond in a cornfield, or set off for the rebel alliance to bring down a galactic empire.
As I went off to college, this query was even more pronounced, as I needed to select a course of study. Eventually, I settled on the “variety package” … a dual degree program in marketing and theology, with a minor in political science. After graduation, I initially embarked on the business-oriented path: getting a job as an assistant marketing manager in Chicago. It was a good life, being socially and professionally active in a young-adult-friendly urban center and enjoying the start of a potentially lucrative career.
Yet God was calling me to something else. I was drawn to the community at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, where – for the first time – I felt a sense of belonging. It was through that experience that I felt an urge to pursue another road (which I am still on): church ministry.
This call was not out of the blue. Throughout my youth and young adulthood, I had many positive experiences of church ministry and mentors who accompanied me along the way. This led to my theology major in college, my decision to connect with the cathedral community, and the lingering feeling of being called to something deeper.
In a way, it felt like I was in the role of young Solomon from the first reading, given a choice of many potential pathways upon which to walk. Like Solomon, I could have taken other roads, but I eventually chose a way I could serve best.
At various points throughout my life, other choices have fallen like a tree onto my path – from mundane decisions to life-altering vocational disruptions. It is at each of those turns that I am reminded of the gift of discernment. Pope Francis says, “Often discernment is exercised in small and apparently irrelevant things, since greatness of spirit is manifested in simple everyday realities. It involves striving untrammelled for all that is great, better and more beautiful, while at the same time being concerned for the little things, for each day’s responsibilities and commitments” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 169
Discernment is a journey, and it may not be quick – even for those everyday choices. One of the blessings I have received has been encountering the Jesuit community and learning from them the “examen” of St. Ignatius of Loyola, their founder (1491-1556). This spiritual tool, coupled with silence and stillness, has allowed me to reflect on God’s movement in my life and to see more clearly the paths I could take.
In a way, the gift of discernment (along with those still, silent moments) is like “a pearl of great price”, as Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven in this week’s Gospel reading. Although, discernment is also akin to Jesus’ analogy of the “treasure buried in a field”, which requires a bit of work to find and dig for it.
Either way, when I take time to discern, I see that God is always calling me to put myself at the service of others with whatever choice is before me. In my younger days, that was the choice: If my marketing work could be transformed into a service to the world, that would be my path. But if there was another option, then that would be the path I needed to take. For me, it was the latter.
Pope Francis wrote about this very thing in his 2019 letter to young people, Christus Vivit
, which I felt could be said to any one of us, no matter our age: “Your own personal vocation does not consist only in the work you do, though that is an expression of it. Your vocation is something more: it is a path guiding your many efforts and actions toward service to others… Your work stops being just about making money, keeping busy, or pleasing others… In the end, it is a recognition of why I was made, why I am here on earth, and what the Lord’s plan is for my life” (#255-256).
Solomon had to discover his “pearl of great price,” as do each of us, in every one of our choices. May we have the same wisdom to discern the path of service God hopes we will follow, so that we might also discover who we are, why we were made, and what we are to do next.
The readings for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, are
1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
Paul Jarzembowski has worked for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) since 2013, serving as the lead staff for youth and young adult ministries within its Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth and coordinating the United States’ engagement in World Youth Day. Originally from the Chicago area, Paul received his graduate degree from Loyola University Chicago, where he also served as adjunct faculty in the Institute of Pastoral Studies. Paul has consulted with, spoken to, and accompanied pastoral leaders in the Untied States, Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe, including the Holy See. Paul and his wife Sarah live in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., USA.