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World-famous missionary doctor’s 3 pieces of advice for finding your mission in life


Thomas Zsebok/Shutterstock

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 10/24/19

God has a particular call for you -- here's how to find and follow it.

If there’s anyone who knows how to pursue a particular vocation against all odds, it’s Dr. Tom Catena. As the only surgeon for decades in one of the most remote places in the world, he has remained faithful to God’s call despite obstacles that sometimes seem insurmountable.

Catena realized that God was calling him to be a missionary doctor just after he graduated from college, but since he hadn’t studied medicine, he had to go back and take extra classes to prepare for medical school. After medical school, he spent years in the Navy and then in postgraduate training in his specialty. All together, the time from discerning his vocation to living it out was fully 14 years.

Catena remembers very well the particular challenges of the time he spent preparing for his life’s work. “It would drive me crazy when people would ask me, ‘What are you doing, why are you doing this? Don’t you need to go in this direction and start making money?’” he says.

Yet when he spent time with God in prayer, the answer was clear: He found peace in following the call that God had made clear to him all those years before. “You can know you’re going in the right direction if you feel comfort going that way,” he says.

You don’t have to be called to something rare or unusual to benefit from Catena’s suggestions for finding your own mission in life. Here are his top 3 pieces of advice that he himself followed and still follows …

1Open your mind and heart to whatever God is asking of you.

“The first thing is to be open to the voice of God,” Catena says, “which will often just be small nudges and pushes, doors opening and closing.”

God’s will for you may not be something obvious or expected, so an attitude of trustful surrender is needed. Catena says that he prays for discernment by telling God, “I am here in your service, do with me what you will.”

2Stay firmly rooted in prayer and the sacraments.

Catena has seen the worst that human beings can endure, after living through civil wars and his own hospital being bombed, not to mention the endless stream of illness and injury that he treats every day. Through all of this, daily Mass and the Eucharist give him the grace to keep going.

“We as Catholics have very powerful spiritual weapons in prayer and the sacraments,” he said. “Go to Mass every day and put yourself in God’s presence every day. Take part in the sacraments, and say the Rosary every day for your own spiritual protection and strength. These are very powerful things and we can’t forget that.”

3Don’t let naysayers blow you off course.

Our society values pleasure over holiness, and usually gives little support to those who choose to follow a different path. Well-intentioned friends and relatives might discourage you. Even your own doubts and fears may betray your best intentions. Against all these obstacles, Catena encourages constancy and perseverance in the path God has called you to.

“The path can go up and down and zigzag and throw you for a loop,” he says. “You have to have a lot of patience, and patience in prayer.”

Remaining faithful to a vocation that seems far-off and difficult to achieve is a struggle Catena knows well. Setbacks and difficulties are inevitable, and perhaps it is easier to persevere if we enter into our life’s work with that understanding.

“Anyone who is a believer will have times in life when we get a lot of pushback,” Catena says. “Take advantage of the spiritual weapons, and don’t despair. Don’t leave when it gets hard. Finding your calling, and sticking with it, takes patience and time.”

The formula seems simple: Open your heart to God’s voice, grow close to Him in prayer and the sacraments, and then hold fast to the vocation that gives you peace. Putting it into practice, however, is the task of a lifetime, and one we must re-commit to doing again and again.

Dr. Tom Catena

Read more:
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