Discerning Without a GPS

Brother David Henley, Glenmary vocation director

November 2013

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."—Ralph Waldo Emerson

This past month, my vocation travels included a visit to one of my fellow Glenmarians who, like many Glenmary missioners, lives along the back roads in a hollow in the Appalachian Mountains. Since it would be my first trip to his home, he gave me handwritten instructions with the warning: "Don't even bother with a GPS. Many before you have tried and failed." For the locals who know the area, his house is not too difficult to locate. But according to a standard GPS or Google Maps, it does not exist.

In driving to his home, I had to trust the directions he gave me were correct. I had to overcome my fear of making a wrong turn or passing the street on which I was supposed to turn. Without the GPS, I had no back-up with a voice to tell me "Make a legal U-turn when possible" if I were to make a mistake. I was driving by faith.

If you look at a standard United States map, you see the outline of each of the states, the state capitals and the larger cities. Glenmary missions do not appear on these maps. On a new Glenmary map that highlights one aspect of mission need—counties with a population less than 3 percent Catholic—it is not the big cities and capitals that are highlighted but the areas along the back roads of rural America. In the words of Glenmary's founder, Father William Howard Bishop, these are "the forgotten and neglected places."

This new mission map shows that even after nearly 75 years and close to 150 missions served by Glenmary, the mission challenge still exists today. In Father Bishop's plan for founding our mission society, he wrote, "The conversion of America to the Church of Jesus Christ is, consciously or unconsciously, the cherished wish of every fervent Catholic in these United States. Yet how many of us realize that such a task can never be accomplished so long as our organized efforts at convert-making are practically all initiated and used up in our cities and towns?"

Even in this day of 24-hour Catholic television broadcasting and papal tweets, the task of bringing a Catholic presence, proclaiming the good news and working toward the conversion of America must still be undertaken in person along the back roads.

Do you share that fervent desire about which Father Bishop wrote? Are you being called to be a missioner and share the good news in these forgotten and neglected regions? Discerning your call is like driving without the GPS: you have to trust God and have faith in that inner voice encouraging you to go forward and not listen to those outside distractions that seem to urge a U-turn. The people living in the rural forgotten and neglected places are waiting for you.

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one bringing good news..."
—Is 52:7a

If you would like more information about Glenmary Home Missioners or would like to speak with someone about following your call or the doubts you may be experiencing, you can call 513-881-7494, contact us via our Web site, send an e-mail, or get in touch through Facebook.

You can also read previous columns by Brother David on the Glenmary Web site.