What is God’s purpose for you?


By Kathy Berken
On Deck

If you are as old as I am, you will know the answer to question six in the Baltimore Catechism: “Why did God make you?”  “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”

When I am not sure whether I am fulfilling God’s purpose, I pray Trappist Father Thomas Merton’s words: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. But I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

During our darkest hours, God’s purpose may become less clear because the light is not shining on our path. Yet, “I will not fear, for you are ever with me.” Talk about trusting God to give you wings to fly or a foothold to walk on when you step off the cliff!


This reminds me of a World War II story about Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty, who helped hide refugees from the Nazis and after the war regularly visited a former SS officer, Herbert Kappler, imprisoned in Italy for war crimes. Kappler’s purpose had been to assassinate the priest but Msgr. O’Flaherty’s purpose was to serve God. When asked why he wanted to visit the man who hunted him during the war, the priest said, “God has no country.”

Due to Msgr. O’Flaherty’s regular conversations about religion and philosophy, eventually Kappler converted to Catholicism. As an aside, actor Gregory Peck portrayed Msgr. O’Flaherty in the 1983 television film “The Scarlet and the Black.” You can find plays and a novel written about his life.

The foundation of God’s purpose for each of us is in that catechism answer: to know, love and serve God. How many of us could claim to have the same purpose as Msgr. O’Flaherty? If you are confident in your purpose, you are very blessed! Most people flounder and question what God wants of them. Many people I meet with discern a new purpose every time something changes in their life: graduation, a new job, marriage, children, retirement or the death of a spouse. How often do I hear: “What does God want from me now?” Sometimes it is not as earth shattering as hiding refugees from the Nazis or converting an SS commandant who wanted to kill you.

Most of us want to know, love and serve God and yet we may feel guilty for not being certain about our purpose, not thinking about it or not doing enough to fulfill it. My advice is to keep it simple. Discerning God’s purpose might be as obvious as re-labeling what you already do to make a difference: providing for and raising a family, educating others about God and the Church, and/or being generous with your time, talent and treasure. Maybe your purpose is to be a saint, to do good wherever you are and with others you encounter.

Jesus had a purpose. It was to “Fulfill God’s plan ‘to see and to save the lost’” (Luke 19:10). John’s Gospel reiterates, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (6:38).

I very much appreciate Pope Francis’ advice about praying for direction: “Always ask the Spirit what Jesus expects from you at every moment of your life and in every decision you must make to discern its place in the mission you have received.” He suggests that we “allow the Spirit to forge in [us] the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today’s world.”

 (Kathy Berken is a spiritual director and retreat leader in St. Paul, Minnesota. She lived and worked at L’Arche in Clinton  — The Arch from 1999-2009.)

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