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

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Two Vocations" - I Have Been Unable to Post Comments

Gregaria -

In your reading on this subject, have you come across anything that says that some people may not have a vocation?

No. We all have a vocation to love as Christ loves us and the church provides us with specific teaching about living out that vocation according to God’s will. Why do you ask if some people might not have a vocation?

I also wondered if you were saying that consecrated non-religious life is a Vocation, too.

I am saying that consecration to Christ is one way to realize one's vocation to love. The consecration is usually formal: consecrated virgins, hermits, the members of communities such as Communion and Liberation's St. Joseph's Fraternity, etc. Both formal and less formal ways of consecrating oneself to Christ should be discussed with one's pastor and/or confessor.

And, also, from your point of view, would sickness be a valid reason to live a consecrated non-religious life?

Of course not – the only reason to consecrate oneself to Christ is in response to a specific calling that is discerned within one's immediate experience of the church – one's confessor, pastor, parish (always essential), lay movement, etc. Depending on its severity, sickness can be an impediment. It can also be part of the discernment process – many have realized that illness has limited them so much that all they could do was be consecrated to Christ and such consecration was, in fact, the realization, the living out of their vocation.

PS – I assume by "non-religious" you mean outside of a religious community/order.

PPS – I will be writing more about illness and ways of living out one's vocation and impediments and obedience and all sorts of issues related to this topic.

Monday, September 24, 2007

"Two (and Only Two) Vocations"

The question has arisen: does the church really teach that there are only two vocations, marriage and consecration to Christ? (In the latter I include mystical marriage to God as well as those who make a vow of celibacy and live in obedience, formal or otherwise, to their bishop or some other authority.) When I wrote my first post on this subject, I had read a great deal of Theology of the Body and all of Mulieris Dignitatem and, was, in fact, participating in a study group with several theologians that focuses on Theology of the Body and discusses this very issue. Since then, I've read nearly all of the first, reread the latter and also read Familiaris Consortio. Additionally, I continue my participation in the study group and have had many discussions on the topic with priests and theologians. My additional reading and some of those conversations require that I alter my language a bit - the church teaches that there are two ways to realize our vocation to love, marriage and consecration to Christ (though, as I've indicated already, that consecration need not be "formal").

Theology of the Body and Mulieris Dignitatem call us to give ourselves in one of two ways, marriage or consecration to Christ. As Mary Beth Bonacci puts it, "[a]s far as the Church is concerned, [an unconsecrated single "vocation"] doesn't exist." That’s not surprising – the concept of a vocation to the unconsecrated single life is quite modern and though the magisterium reads the signs of the times and speaks the truth regardless of the clamour from the marketplace, their teaching is rarely clairvoyant nor is it normally pre-emptive.

But already Familiaris Consortio teaches: "Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person, in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy. Either one is in its own proper form an actuation of the most profound truth of man, of his being "created in the image of God."

The encyclical goes on to define what is meant by virginity or celibacy: "In virginity or celibacy, the human being is awaiting, also in a bodily way, the eschatological marriage of Christ with the church, giving himself or herself completely to the church in the hope that Christ may give himself to the church in the full truth of eternal life. The celibate person thus anticipates in his or her flesh the new world of the future resurrection."

Then it addresses unmarried Catholics who have not given themselves completely to the church: "These reflections on virginity or celibacy can enlighten and help those who, for reasons independent of their own will, have been unable to marry and have then accepted their situation in a spirit of service. (emphasis added)

[F]or reasons independent of their own will is extremely important – that is what I am writing about, the ways I choose to close myself to marriage. (This is, after all, my story.)

Of course there is still a great deal of discussion about vocation, including the possibility of a vocation to some sort of unconsecrated single life. But discussion is not church teaching. And just as there has been and continues to be development of the theology of the body, the same is and will be true regarding development of the theology of vocation. In fact, the two go hand in hand. Yet, over and over again, when the magisterium of the church discusses a possible vocation to single life, they also point out that that life must have a purpose that is lived within the church and is self-giving and, those bishops keep coming back to some sort of formal or informal consecration to Christ. Again, that's not at all surprising. Development seeks to be consistent and grows out of existing Church teaching and tradition.

Living out our vocation to love requires commitment, requires that we ratify a specific call from God. The church teaches that that call always takes us into deeper and deeper relationship within the body of Christ including relationship with those of the opposite sex. And though, within marriage and giving ourselves completely to the church, there are many possibilities for living out our ultimate vocation to love, there is no call to a life apart and certainly no call to reject those of the opposite sex.

So if I live living out attitudes that close me off to marriage such as:

- I'm fine on my own
- I have my friends, my job, my activities, I go to mass and confess regularly, men are superfluous
- I don't need a relationship with a man to be fulfilled, I can be fulfilled on my own
- Men are so much work, why bother

is then, in fact, being I would be selfish. It is living for myself and defining God and the world by the yardstick of my wounds, my brokenness, my sin.

Married couples are called to be open to children but they are not commanded to have them. Such command is not possible, children are a gift. Whether married couples are truly open is something only they and God know (honestly, only God really knows). Confessors, families, friends – all might have some knowledge about a couple's openness but there is no litmus test – openness is truly a matter of conscience.

Relationships are also gifts. Marriage is a gift. As is consecration to Christ (and the vocation to love). Vocation comes from God. I am only asked to listen and do the best I can to respond to his voice. And though the church's teaching about realizing vocation will continue to develop, that is really not my concern, at least not at this moment. I am not waiting for the church to tell me that it's okay for me to stay single, to stay as I am. I am not Catholic so that I can stay as I am. I want to be conformed to Christ's image and am deliriously happy to do my best to follow the teachings of the church. I spent too many years in the Anglican communion trying to follow Christ amidst a paucity of church teaching and a deficiency of church authority. It just didn't work: I am simply too small to teach myself, too small to be my own authority. I need the church's teaching and authority. Obedience, even when it is difficult, is radically better than making it up for myself.