This might seem like an unusual title, “The Gift of Unworthiness” but I truly believe that a sense of our unworthiness is indeed, a gift. I deal with a lot of unworthiness. I live with it myself (for there’s no more unworthy a soul than me) but as Vocation Director, it is often the greatest obstacle and struggle with people discerning their vocation to overcome, a deep sense of unworthiness. So while I face unworthiness with the men and women I serve and dialogue with – I am first reminded of the manner in which I began to deal with it in discernment. A great Jesuit (former Vocation Director) Fr. Len Altilia led the first discernment retreat I attended. At that retreat, one of the first things he said to us all was “you’re probably sitting here thinking you’re unworthy, that the Lord might be calling you (to priesthood or religious life) and guess what, you are. So there’s only one way to get over it…accept it. We all have (and he pointed to the many priests, religious sisters and brothers who were there with us for the weekend).
It’s not easy to just get over it, but I have never forgotten Fr. Len’s words and I must say I use them often in my own vocation ministry now. It may be a lifetime of struggle with constant feeling of unworthiness in our calling; constant need of the Sacrament of Penance and good support from those who share with us in a similar calling (other religious sisters, brothers or priests) but what makes us feel unworthy is also a sense of how great the Lord is, how great His love is for us and how important the calling we are chosen for is. I don’t want anyone to think that I am in any way excluding the holy vocation of marriage here. Husbands and wives, mothers and fathers know well the weight of their vocation too and many of them feel a sense of unworthiness too. But I certainly know that marriage is blessed by the total gift of men and women to God and to each other and the family is the greatest blessing which is the bedrock, the foundation and the garden for vocations to build up the Church. A worthy calling, and when two people feel unworthy but spend their lifetime seeking to be worthy – the world benefits from this.
Humility is the key. The true gift of a sense of unworthiness is to be found in humility. Humility gives us a sense of the greatness of God and the lowliness of ourselves, but does not manifest in inaction. We can’t let unworthiness paralyze us, and this is so important. It is a great disappointment when a person does not respond to the Lord’s call because of this sense of unworthiness they may have. Of course there are people whom I meet for whom their struggles will consume them in particular religious vocations but sometimes people discerning can’t be convinced that everything will be alright by spiritual or vocation director – and so they reject their call.
But for those who embrace their call and who always have an awareness of their unworthiness – this can truly be a gift, a gift that keeps on giving because they do become aware that the Lord will increase and they must decrease, and they are a living testament to the love, mercy and generosity of God in the world.