These are books that might be helpful for anyone discerning a possible lay missionary vocation.

Becoming Who You Are

“The tendency to make false comparisons [with others] is unhealthy because it also leads us away from the true self, and encourages us to be someone else, someone whom God did not create. This is not to say that one cannot admire good and holy people and desire to emulate them in some way. One might read the lives of the saints and think: I could be more generous, more loving, more patient, and so on. But, when we think that we have to become them in order to be holy, we are denying the person whom God has created.

One is freed from this spiritual prison not only by reflecting more realistically on the sometimes painful lot of others, as well as by accompanying them into their suffering, but also by reflecting on the blessings in their own lives. In other words, by engaging in the practice of gratitude.”

James Martin, SJ, is a Jesuit priest and associate editor of AMERICA, a national Catholic magazine.  Becoming Who You Are is published by Paulist Press.

A Sacred Voice is Calling

“VOCATION is not only about ‘me’ and my personal fulfillment, but about ‘us’ and the common good. In Buechner’s words, our callings are found in the places where our ‘deep gladness’ and the ‘world’s deep hunger’ meet, on the holy ground where our heart’s desire comes together with what the world most needs from us.

Authentic vocational discernment, therefore, seeks a proper balance between inward listening to our hearts and outward, socially engaged listening with our hearts to the realities of the world in which we live. These come together in our heart’s response to the needs and sufferings of the world. ‘What matters,’ writes José Garcia, ‘is that the world should touch the heart and that the heart should go out towards the world.'”

John Neafsey is a clinical psychologist and senior lecturer in the theology department at Loyola University Chicago.  A Sacred Voice is Calling is published by Orbis Books.

The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times

“We live in troubling times. While people can connect as never before, the world seems more fragmented. We are awash in information, yet it is hard to get a sense of the whole…

With major institutions in crisis, we find it hard to say where the world is headed. Some believe this affords groups of deeply committed people a better chance to shape the future than they would have under more stable, less fluid conditions: an encouraging way to think about this state of uncertainty. In any event, we urgently need a critical mass of such people to make this century the century of solidarity and turn the swelling tide of misery, violence, and environmental crisis.

The good news (gospel) assures us that it makes sense to struggle against the odds and to celebrate along the way. I do believe, as the song says, that we shall overcome some day. I hope these reflections will stoke the inner flame of generous readers and provide them with resources to help bring that day closer.”

Dean Brackley, SJ, was a Jesuit priest and Professor of Theology and Ethics at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) in El Salvador. He first began teaching at the UCA in 1990 when he succeeded one of the 6 Jesuits martyred in the UCA massacre the previous year.  The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times: New Perspectives on the Transformative Wisdom of Ignatius Loyola  is published by Crossroad Publishing.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

“From the beginning, our lives lay down clues to selfhood and vocation, though the clues may be hard to decode. But trying to decode them is profoundly worthwhile–especially when we are in our twenties or thirties or forties, feeling profoundly lost, having wandered, or been dragged, far away from our birthright gifts.

Those clues are helpful in counteracting the conventional concept of vocation, which insists that our lives must be driven by ‘oughts.’ As noble as that may sound, we do not find our callings by conforming ourselves to some abstract moral code. We find our callings by claiming authentic selfhood, by being who we are…The deepest vocational question is not ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding ‘Who am I? What is my nature?'”

Parker J. Palmer is senior associate of the American Association for Higher Education and senior advisor to the Fetzer Institute. In 1998, he was named one of the thirty most influential senior leaders in higher education. He is a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) and lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Let Your Life Speak is published by Jossey-Bass.

Doing the Truth in Love: Conversations about God, Relationships and Service

“‘What you receive as a gift, give as a gift’ (Mt 10:8). This seems to me the ultimate instruction to all disciples: what you have been given as a gift, give to other people as a gift. This is why we must develop our talents. Why is your work at a university or for a family important? So that you can give it to other people later. There is a saying attributed to Catherine of Siena, one of the great women of the Dominican tradition, that the only reason to learn is to teach, the reason to gain knowledge, is to give it away.

But how do we find the best way to give ourselves away? What are some criteria that we can use in decision making? How do we discern our individual vocations? How do we discover what the call to service means for each one of us concretely? There are three signs which, taken together, are nearly infallible. The first is to discover whether this work or service is a source of joy for you…The second is ability and opportunity for growth…The third sign is that the vocation which you are considering is a concrete expression of agape. Does this way of living and working meet a genuine need in the community?”

Michael J. Himes is a Catholic priest of the diocese of Brooklyn, New York. He serves as a professor of theology at Boston College and is a popular teacher, preacher, and workshop presenter.  He holds a PhD from the University of Chicago, as well as several honorary degrees.  Doing the Truth in Love is published by Paulist Press.