Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Possession – Part 2

[She] belonged to him so completely that he could even decide not to keep [her] for himself but to order that [she] be given to another, by an act of obedience… (C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength)

I did not learn until several months ago that the Church teaches there are two (and only two) vocations, marriage or the consecrated celibate life. I had honestly believed being single was a third vocation, had been told as much by both Anglican and Catholic teachers. Of course logically the default state is single. It’s the way we all begin. Yet the Church views it as a temporary state, as transitional – Catholics take Genesis seriously: "[i]t is not good for the human to be alone, I shall make him a sustainer beside him.” (Genesis 2:18 from Robert Alter, Genesis a Translation)

It has been almost exactly three years since I returned to the Catholic Church after spending a number of years in the Anglican Communion. In that brief period, there has been a radical change in me. As an Anglican, my immediate response would have been to deconstruct the Church’s teaching, to find it’s deep, spiritual meaning which ratified my belief that being perpetually single was actually God’s will. As a Catholic, I simply accepted it and now the real work begins. I am accustomed to being single, do all sorts of things, conscious and unconscious, to remain that way, take great delight in doing as I please with my life.

But I want to belong to God even when I fight against him, even when I resent him doing anything at all with me; too often I feel that he should do with me as I please. And I can’t fix myself – even to belong to God. I am so weak and inept I cannot even give myself to God unless he gives me the ability to do so. But my automatic response to follow church teaching, to relinquish my belief that I am okay on my own, is evidence that he is giving me that ability. Something truly has changed in me: I value the Church’s teaching more than I value my own preferences and inclinations – I am learning obedience.

What was so laughable about my foster father’s attempt to arrange a marriage for me was that he failed to realize it had been many years since I had obeyed him. He believed he owned me, could dispose of me as he pleased. For my part, I wasn’t even aware of his attempt to do so. Had he never told me he wanted me to marry the seminarian, I’d have just continued to think he was weird for expecting me to entertain that poor young man – it really was a silly thing to expect of me. But he didn’t know that. My foster father didn’t know he didn’t know me, didn’t know I was only using him to get back to New York, had never noticed that our relationship had undergone a radical change and I now manipulated him. And because he was simply something to use there could be no obedience. Obedience belongs to the province of love and I did not love him. There was absolutely no connection between us – we spoke radically different languages, came from radically different perspectives.

Though I did not obey him, within me there was a hunger to be obedient. I wanted someone to whom I could listen, someone to follow. Eventually, I even tested whether I had a vocation as a consecrated celibate and though I knew obedience would be very difficult, it was also exciting. But the discernment process showed me I had been saying to God, I love you so much I’m willing to do anything you want and then had immediately assumed I knew what that was. (What else does one deliriously in love with God become?) But I came to see I had never considered the importance of sex (something I shall address in (an)other post(s)) and then realized I had never asked God, What do you want me to do? When I did ask, the answer was simply to live and become holy. So as long as I obeyed the teaching of the church, obedience seemed not to be an issue any longer.

But neither the teaching of the church nor obedience mean much in the Anglican circles I frequented. Though there are many people who will tell one what to do, the teaching there has become so murky, so capricious, there’s no path to follow, only many different ways to become lost. But now that I am safely back in the Catholic church, I do have a clear path and if I am to belong to God, I must accept that being single is not a viable vocation. Since I am not called to the consecrated celibate life, I must be open to marriage. That doesn’t guarantee that I will marry – this is still a broken world and much is not at all as God would have it be. But if I am to obey, I cannot make a decision to be perpetually single. Obedience demands that I prepare myself for marriage, that I live my life in the hope that God has made me to be, has made for me a sustainer and that in the fullness of time we will be married.

I did not belong to my foster father. He had no right to dispose of me as he saw fit. I knew that, knew that it was not my business to obey him. I do belong to God. I am his to with as he pleases. That is exactly as it should be. And though I am a woman of this age and not another so that the very idea of being given in marriage is fraught with all sorts of modern connotations, and though my feelings still tell me that single is a perfectly fine default position, I can accept that the modern connotations are wrong and my feelings are broken. It really does seem I am learning obedience.


Kit-Kat said...

Obedience is so important. And it's also the hardest, and scariest, thing for me to practice. I find myself becoming very vulnerable and exposed when I do. *Sigh* I guess I don't trust enough.

Gabrielle said...

Drusilla, I understand what you're saying about finding a new freedom in obedience - I really, really do; but how can it be true that the Catholic church only recognizes consecrated religious and married as vocations (I have not read up on this; I believe what you're saying, but I'm just asking) - what about the many saints like Catherine of Siena and Gemma Galgani, who were not nuns but refused to entertain the idea of marriage, and sometimes belonged to third orders? What about consecrated virgins? It was my understanding that being a consecrated virgin, for instance, is a wholly acceptable vocation within the Church now. Have I misunderstood?

Gabrielle said...

I guess what I'm trying to say is, without even having to debate what state of life is or isn't a vocation, I believe there is an even higher calling than what we normally understand to be a "vocation". If, for instance, one has experienced the mystical betrothal/marriage, and one is single, then I think the desire to be entirely and only with the Beloved Spouse would take precedence over the goodness/desirability of the married state. We see this over and over again, with the female saints in particular, I think.

Anonymous said...

"Obedience belongs to the province of love" --oh, I like that statement, and it leads me to say there can be no obedience without trust.

For 5 years post-separation and pre-(sacramental this time)marriage, each day was a new day of trusting. Whatever was indicated (by Him, faith, and/or my state in life duty), that is what I did. Whatever I couldn't figure out, I begged for it to be clarified.

I should be tarred if not also feathered for making it sound easy. There is nothing harder than saying, "Thy will, not mine." I stuck so closely to how I interpreted that in my life (a lot like Bozo clinging unto the Didache), He knew that if I was to remarry in this non-dating status, He'd have to drop a guy into my lap. Actually, it was a Webelo Scout Den Leader, and I (carless) was dropped into his lap.

But are there really only two vocations.. if one looks at the Sacraments, it does seem it could be nothing but two options..

Kit-Kat said...

The way I see it, consecrated virgins and the Tertiary religious (the way that St. Catherine of Siena was) fall under consecrated religious life. (To my knowledge, the Third Orders of today are not like the Tertiaries of yesteryear; the Third Orders seem to have more in common with modern lay movements than with the Tertiaries of old. Perhaps there are some TO's out there that can explain better than I can. Or correct me - I'm speaking looking from the outside in.) Mystical marriage (like my patroness St. Katherine of Alexandria) is also a form of consecrated religious life IMO.

That's the short answer. I'm at work so I don't have much time to elaborate. I like this discussion so I'll be checking in whenever I have a spare moment.

Drusilla said...

Please forgive me for not respondiung sooner - I'm not ignoring the conversation but am simply very busy at work (and feeling very tired today - didn't eat properly yesterday and am paying for it. As Kit-Kat indicates, I am including consecrated celebates under consecrated religious; I'll change "consecrated religious" to "consecrated celibate" as soon as I have a chance.

It also seems I need a post about the two states, two vocations. Vocation of course has at least two senses. 1) vocation is not something that begins at a particular moment but is the life we live as a result of our baptisms. 2) requires a committment, a ratification on our part of a specific call from God (which is what I am writing about here as well as the one we usually mean).

More coming soon.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

"I did not learn until several months ago that the Church teaches there are two (and only two) vocations, marriage or the consecrated religious life."

I would be interested in knowing what brought you to this conclusion since I have always heard that the single state, though a transitory condition for some people, can also be a vocation for others. Not being confrontational here -- just interested.

Bender said...

As to whether the single state "can also be a vocation for others" --

As I see it, just thinking out loud here, there are essentially four states: marriage, formal religious life, true singlehood, and psuedo-singlehood.

True singlehood, whereby one is wholly and completely autonomous and independent and detached, or where there is no desire for relationships with other persons to move toward union and they have no room for God, clearly could never be a vocation. We are social creatures and God calls us to love and give of ourselves in a relationship with others, with a goal of union, which is the antithesis of true singlehood. God does not call anyone to be alone.

Psuedo-singlehood, on the other hand, is necessarily either transitional to marriage or religious life, or it is an unfulfilled vocation if neither of these is the end result. In such psuedo-single state, one is true to our nature of being social creatures and seeks to love and live in relationships with others, either building toward (1) union with a spouse, or (2) union with God, whether it be (a) formal consecrated religious life or consecrated virginity, or (b)more "informal," such as the person who does not believe themselves called to consecrated life, but does not have any marital prospects either, and thus seeks to grow closer to God and places his or her life in God's hands. If this last state ends in marriage, it will have been transitional; if it does not end in marriage it will be an unfulfilled vocation.

As for me, I am in (2)(b). I do not believe myself to be called to the priesthood or other religious life; rather, I believe that I am called to married life. The only problem is that I am missing the essential ingredient for marriage -- a wife or a fiancee or even a steady girlfriend (or an unsteady one, for that matter), although I have been close. However, I am not simply living my life for myself, but am seeking to grow in the faith. If I cannot fill my heart with the love of a wife, then I shall fill it with the love of God -- certainly the world could never fill my heart with anything except superficialities and disappointment. And if that day comes when a wife comes on the scene, then I'm sure God will expand my heart and make room for her love as well. And if not, well, I will still have God, and that ain't half bad.

UltraCrepidarian said...

This is fabulous. Thank you for sharing. You so totally Rock.


Anonymous said...

'I do belong to God. I am his to with as he pleases.'

Yes, but you aren't his foster daughter. You are his beloved. And his plans are for your welfare, and not for woe.

If he calls you to marriage, it will be confirmed by joy, not resignation.

And if you were sexually abused, your reaction to any vocation is likely to be coming out of a negative reaction.

Best to put your energy into seeking healing before trying to sort your vocation. Your Father who loves you wants you to be able to choose from wholeness...not brokenness. His love can bring this about.

God Bless.

Drusilla said...

If he calls you to marriage, it will be confirmed by joy, not resignation

It is important to remember that obedience is not rezignation - more on that later.

Jeff Culbreath said...

I'm certain that consecrated virginity "in the world" has long been promoted by the Church. I have an old TAN book that discusses this in some detail. Here's a site with more information:

I know one such woman myself. She may be a saint. It is a beautiful state of life with its own graces and difficulties.