The word of the LORD came to me: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. But you, prepare yourself; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Do not be terrified on account of them, or I will terrify you before them; for I am the one who today makes you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze, against the whole land: Against Judah’s kings and princes, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you. -- Oracle of the LORD.
Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19
As a candidate for the Catholic priesthood, I have had the opportunity to speak with many priests and seminarians about their own unique vocations. Over the years, I have begun to detect a common theme -- a sense of unworthiness. They all tell of a moment of doubt, fear, and even paralysis at the beginning of the journey, due to a looming suspicion that “they can’t do it” or “God’s got the wrong guy,” because “I am not enough.” One seminarian even told me that he delayed the pursuit of Orders for over ten years out of fear of inadequacy.
This is not unique to priests. Married men often speak of the same phenomenon that strikes them soon before the birth of their children; and mothers, when they become awestruck at the task of motherhood, often feel the same. I believe that one of the most common human experiences is the feeling of unworthiness. In the face of responsibility, duty, and even honors, how often do we feel like we are not enough?
I think it probable that this very same all-to-familiar doubt was also churning in the soul of the soon-to-be prophet Jeremiah. The Lord tells the prophet that before he was ever formed in the womb, God knew him, formed him, dedicated him according to a plan known before all creation. It is only after assuring Jeremiah of this fact that the Lord then commands him to “prepare himself.”
The awareness that God has perfectly designed him for the task to which he was called is the only backdrop, the only frame, within which Jeremiah could ever muster the courage he needed to realize his calling. The Lord pleads with Jeremiah to “not be terrified” on account of His commands and tells him: “For I am the one who today makes you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze.”
Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord teaches us an important lesson: when God calls us, it is He, not we, that first provides the necessities. It is God who qualifies us, not we that provide the qualifications. In fact, this providence is the very beginning of God’s call.
The wise artist, craftsman, or architect, before ever setting out to build a structure, first knows the structure’s purpose. Only then, in light of that purpose and with that purpose in clear focus, does he collect materials needed for the task. The craftsman would be a fool if, in aiming to build a firm load-bearing structure, he chose brittle clay or weak straw. The craftsman would be a fool if, in aiming to lay a stable foundation, he chose sand instead of solid rock. Instead, the wise craftsman always chooses the right material for his purpose. Yet even this human craftsman, as wise and skilled as he may be, is always laboring with materials that are not of his own making.
If even these human craftsmen can be trusted with their skill and the materials that they have, how much more can we trust the Divine craftsman who, not only chooses and calls us according to His purpose, but even creates us and provides for us according to His master plan set from all eternity? Does the Divine craftsman not know His material? Is God unaware of the task to which He sets out? If a calling is from God, it is He, and only He, who possesses the power to work out the calling through us.
The Lord is the only solid foundation upon which we may live our unique callings. Only upon Him can we become, like Jeremiah, a pillar of iron, and a wall of bronze. The mystery of our vocations as Christians is buried deep in the mystery of God, and we can never possess the strength needed unless we first possess Him. Brothers and sisters, let us not be afraid but let us take courage…for we are the creation of God.