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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Discernment

I don't understand how one can "discern" into something that isn't there. I don't understand how one can feel a call to something they don't see, can't obtain because it isn't present, or just "know" it is where they belong. And it's a far cry from the nihilism that so plagues our society.

For years now, I know that God has been calling me to something. I don't know what, really. I'll admit the door isn't closed on religious life, nor is it closed on marriage, nor is it closed on the single life. On one hand, it seems that I don't know how to close doors. On the other hand, I wonder if they are SUPPOSED to stand open?

Each state in life has a beauty unto itself, a differing relationship with God, each important, equally, in the life of the Church. Each is needed for the holiness of the individual soul and to contribute properly to the Mystical Body of Christ. Each is beloved of God.

Each is a Vocation.

It's been discussed here before, but I still don't accept the idea that the single life is a "Vocation Inactivated." In fact, I find the idea insulting and, quite honestly, narrow-minded out of willful ignorance.

Sorry, I tend to speak bluntly. That's why the parish I work at is making plans to lynch me any day now.

But my words are not without love. Because I could ONLY come to this realization with love, and I can only express it, bluntly, with love. Maybe it's my German heritage. I dunno.

In any case, just look at the single men and women who have contributed to building the Kingdom of God. Consider Blessed Pierre Giorgio Frassati, (a tiertiary Dominican, by the way) who was 24 when he died. He did what he did and lived the life that he lived as a chaste single man. God did not call him to the religious life, nor did He call him to marry. God called this young man to serve His people in the lay state, as a Single. And he rose to his Vocation.

And what about St. Margaret of Castello, another Dominican? She was a deformed child, abandoned, and chosen from eternity to serve Christ and His Church in a special way. She was DEFORMED...clearly she could not be called to marriage. And from what I remember from her story, she was also rejected from religious life but was allowed to live as a Third Order Dominican. I must look over her story again. In any case, if she WAS admitted to the religious life, I do not see a story of a Vocation inactivated. She lived her Vocation in the state that she was given, fully.

The very idea of "inactive" is insulting, demeaning, and I do believe that people are going to be answering to God one day for such malignment of holy souls. No, there is NOT "someone for everyone." And you know it.

Yes, yes, yes, I realize that the term "vocation" can be greatly abused if used in the secular sense, and that sense is sometimes intermixed with the spiritual sense of the word. But I hold that there are 3 legitimate states in life: Married, Religious, and Single, in no particular order. All are necessary. All are beautiful.

And clearly my usage of the term is not in reference to employment, but rather, a state in life, a state chosen by God Himself. Disagree if you wish as that is your perogative. But I will not change this position, nor will I engage in the argument. I am at peace with the idea, and you have the right to be at peace with your own idea.

So, you may be wondering...what am I talking about here, in this ramble of a meandering musing post?

Discernment. It has many forms. Each more confusing than the last.

A few years ago I met a man who wanted to enter a Third Order. It was a fairly new idea to me, and for myself, I did not feel called to it. I did not belive I was called to religious life, and I don't know that I've ever felt a real STRONG call to marriage. Then again, talk to me in a few days and I may say something different. Marriage is beautiful.

I can tell you that it is wonderful to be a single woman, and there are things that I can offer in this state, and can do in this state that I could not accomplish as a married woman. I can also tell you there are things that I WOULD be able to do if I were married and had a man in the house! In fact, at times it seems I'd have MORE freedom by being married.

And while the idea of religious life is still there, it still repels me to a certain degree, which I feel I must discuss. For one thing, while people who know me see my social face, they see it on my terms. When I am feeling social. And indeed, I am a talker, I do like people, certainly...but I can only take so much. I have ALWAYS been very isolative. I was a very shy child and always withdrew to be alone, in silence. Yet sometimes the silence and aloneness (not the same as lonliness) is too much, and I need to be around people. I need a certain balance.

My family fell apart and I know that this contributed to who I am today, because I can't fairly say I am comfortable with community living. I will admit that it draws me like a moth to a light, but at the same time, I am also repelled, as though sensing a ZAP! is coming if I get too close.

I know that the religious life is completely proper to a socialite, contrary to maybe popular opinion. The men and women who enter cloisters and other religious communities tend to be outgoing (although all personality types are called). And it is their outgoing nature that gives them the ability to be in the constant presence of others...the SAME others...most of the time.

I don't think God gave me that gene. I LOVE living alone, but I don't think I could be a hermit.

In other words, maybe I'm telling you that I'm a normal human being with a personality that can go anywhere, with God's grace. But might be more suited to just remaining in the lay state, in the world, but not OF the world. Unfortunately, this reality does not solve my discernment issue.

For a long time now, I have sensed a closeness to the Dominican charisms. Since my reversion, I have recognized an intense thirst and hunger for God, and nothing really quenches it. I continue to desire to study, to learn, and to share those fruits. I can't keep my mouth shut or my keyboard silent. I MUST speak.

And I also feel a draw to be a part of SOME KIND of community, some form of common prayer, something more intimate than the larger Church, but never apart from her.

In short...I need more. I want to give my life to Christ, I want to give all that I am, all that I have, all that I have been, and all that I will ever be...to Him. And for some of the faithful, that means entering religious life. For others, that means getting married and raising children. For others, it means offering themselves as singles.

So even as I need...I crave to BE needed. To fit somewhere definitively. To make some kind of committment.

I already know that my life means nothing apart from the Cross. While certain points of religious life have their appeal, so does living as a single. And more and more, while I love the idea of marriage, I don't think that's where God is calling me.

God created us all for Himself, and Himself alone. He called us out of eternity, formed us, and placed us in the womb of our mothers. He brought us to live in that warm, encompassing environment, already a foreshadowing of the beatific vision. He brought us into the world, already beloved by Him. Our lives have meaning. Every one. Even those of the aborted children, martyrs by conception, have meaning for someone. Everything is ordered toward God. All is His.

I know that I am His, because I don't belong to anyone else.

In December, I feared we'd lose Mom, and that scares me. Because although I don't rely on her anymore, I still NEED her, maybe partially for definition. We lost Dad in 1995, and in truth, we'd lost him long before that. But Mom...we need Mom. When she goes, it will be my brother and I. And I have no one. My brother has his girlfriend (future wife!) and her family. I don't. I have only God.

I know that my singlehood has been a special place. It is through this state that I have become friends with such Saints as St. Joseph (to whom my Mom has always had a devotion, especially after she was divorced) and others. I have been able to "converse" with the Saints by virtue of the fact that there is no one else. I have a sense of being "adopted" and even protected. Speak to any faithful single...God has His hand on us in a special way.

And now enter the idea of becoming a Lay Dominican. Where I fled the idea of the Third Order Carmelites, and shuddered at the idea of the Secular Franciscans, I am more intensely drawn to the concept of being a Lay Dominican.

There is nothing wrong with the Carmelites. It is a beautiful spirituality, and many Carmelite Saints are good friends of mine. I would not be where I am without them. And they will always inform my spirituality. And the Franciscans...LOVE the Franciscans. St. Francis has always been a special friend as long as I can remember. And it's not a mistake that St. Francis and St. Dominic were very good friends...God drew them together for the sake of the Kingdom. Seperate...but just as important.

And of course, St. Augustine. You don't hear of the "Augustinians", but are you aware that the Dominicans live by the Rule of St. Augustine? Several years ago I took a "test" and it told me that I had "Augustinian" spirituality. What I read seemed to fit, and I read the other descriptions as well. I did not know at the time that "Augustinian Spirituality" was also Dominican.

It was St. Augustine and St. Monica who have brought me to where I am. And for many reasons, both have been present in my life, although I haven't always recognized them.

It seems my Saints are all in cahoots. They have brought me here...they will not abondon me here.

Now I am stepping forward in trust. While I have fled the idea of religious life and feel "so-so" towards marriage, I am loving the idea of professing to a secular order. And maybe it's just a step. Maybe God has other plans for me. Maybe He wants me to remain in the world as a single woman, but connected to a certain community. Maybe He will use this to lead me to my future husband. Maybe He will use this as a springboard into religious life.

Maybe it will all come to nothing and there will be an entirely different surprise.

Not to be morbid, but maybe I'll die tomorrow. And maybe it's my "Yes!" today that will make a difference in that moment.

I realized back in November that I wasn't in a place to say "Yes" to God, and that took me by surprise. But nothing takes God by surprise. He knows our hearts, he knows our true desires, and He will do what is necessary to help us come to Him. He is infinitely patient, infinitely merciful, infinitely good.

Maybe I still can't say "yes" unconditionally, but I am willing to take steps, holding tightly to His hand. And maybe the steps I am taking now will bear fruit.

16 comments:

Thom said...

I'm single, and a Third Order Franciscan (don't shudder!). I know what you're going through.

Ahh, vocations.

mgibson said...

A wonderfully thoughtful post as usual!

If I may, however, I would like to clarify why myself and others have spoken of simply speaking of the "single" life in itself as NOT being a vocation, or, more properly (and to use Aquinas' turn of phrase) to say that we can think of vocation in one of two ways.

The first way is of course the fact that each of us has a path, a life, that we are called to follow, which does include (for all of us) a period of discernment as a single person in which we test the doors.

The second way is to see that, ultimately, every vocation is a marriage (to another human, to the Church, to God), and one of the essential characteristics of actually entering into the vocational state is the vow, the promise, the commitment. Until that point, until the point that all doors are closed but one and that one is unlocked forever, you are not yet in your vocation, but you are still on your vocational journey.

It is not that I and others do not accept that one can BE single in their vocation, not being called to marriage or to enter religious life. Rather, it is that the understanding of the Church (as far as I know, and as far as I have been taught) is that a vocation is not simply the way of life that we are called to, but ultimately the expressed commitment to that way of life. This is why our vocations prayers refer to priests, deacons, religious *and* consecrated life (marriage of course also being a vocation). What is that vague statement of "consecrated life"? It is the fullness of the "single" vocation, committed to before God in either private or public vows.

Now, what about third orders? They, in themselves, as promises before God, are often the means by which a single person does indeed discern and enter into their vocation in the world - by their promises to their community AND by a profession of vows as a consecrated person (or of marriage). However, if one enters a third order and "keeps their options open", then they still have not fully entered their vocation, but again are continuing on their journey - until they shut those doors and make those vows to their spouse (God, church, another person).

Fr. Tom Wilson, the Archdiocesan vocations director, once told me that though a misunderstanding of the single vocation, he thought that many many women (and guys, but mostly women) are now "discerning themselves out of their vocation", because they are led to believe that they can be just as united with God by keeping their options open and testing the water with toe again and again. I speak from experience on this one as well, as I have MANY friends who are in their 30s, 40s and even 50s who are still "discerning", or who have now decided that "well, I guess I'm just a single vocation since nothing else has happened yet". No. The single vocation is NOT what's just "left" for anyone! The single life, if one is called to it, is one that (to be formally recognized as such - that's a point I'll return to below) needs to be chosen and embraced publicly, the same as all the other vocations. It needs to finalized in consecrated celibacy, in the same way that priests, religious and married people enter their vocation when their decision is consecrated permenantly.

Now, please realize that I'm not talking about late reverts or converts here (that's a different story!), I'm talking about solid Catholic people who have always been pius and had a strong faith - who have always been asking, even begging God, for their vocation, but who have never actually tried to close any doors but instead have raised the art of leaving options open to a new level (and called it "prudence").

You're not one of them - but I hope this helps you to understand where some of us are coming from when we speak about there not being a "single" vocation. What we mean is that there in fact IS a vocation to the single state of life, and we want to make sure that people do not get confused by what this means!

Does this help at all?

I did do a quick search and found a couple of interesting websites on this:

Article by Mary Beth Bonacci - Is the Single Life a Vocation?
Phatmass forum - see especially #7 and following comments
Vocation to the Single Life - Follow Up

Adoro te Devote said...

Thom ~ Not shuddering at all! I'm honored to have a Son of St. Francis at my door! Please pray for me and, more importantly, for US, as we discern beginning a new chapter.

Mgibson ~ Brillian remarks yourself. And I don't think you and I disagree. My disagreement lies with those who have a narrow view, who exclude the possibility that one can close doors appropriately and still be called to the Single Vocation.

I do believe that BL. Frassati indeed closed the doors that God called him to close, and looked no further. Although he did not take formal vows, it IS possible for one to take interior vows and follow them. And, granted, that is a special soul. Not like most of us.

I seek a true committment, myself. I need a true committment, and I will not rest until I have it. But it's on God's time. And if that committment is to be a Single woman, I will accept that. (Although I honestly don't want that).

But God is good, He knows best...and, well...you know all about it! :-)

uncle jim said...

Off topic, but
have you read this letter by Padre Pio at the current Catholic Carnival

http://hicatholicmom.blogspot.com/2008/02/padre-pios-letter-comportment-at-holy.html

Adoro said...

Yup! Read it and printed it out yesterday!

Bro. Michael-G's Prayers said...

Dear Friend: The Third Order Franciscans are a separate and distinct part of the Franciscan Family as is the Secular Franciscan Order that draws its membership from the lay population.

Be well and God Bless

Bro. Michael (a follower of the TOR rule)

Adoro te Devote said...

Brother Michael ~ OOPS! Thanks for catching that. I will edit the post. Funny thing, I knew that as I know a Third Order Fransciscan priest!

Tara said...

adoro:
Reading your post--I can't stop crying--oh, and BTW I'm at work--If I were in your place, I would find a Dominican order--take a six month leave of abscence from work and "try it out." At first it is not an absolute--spend some time with them--oh, the constant nagging in your heart--answer the nagging and make sure it's not God calling you to religious life.

adoro said...

Tara ~ I don't think I could survive even a month. And you don't enter postulancy until you've already done a great deal of discerning to a particular community.

I really don't think that's where God is drawing me...at least, not now.

And I couldn't afford it, anyway...no one else is going to pay my bills, which are substantial. And constantly increasing. * sigh *

Melody said...

I agree with you that the single life is a vocation in its own right. I've even heard some priests who think it isn't a "true" vocation; but I've known too many good and holy single people who have enriched the lives of those around them.

Fr. V said...

Cyber Sis -

That is what you meant. LOL!

Good post.

Prayers,

Fr. V

Adoro te Devote said...

Melody ~ I've known a good number of single people who live their lives for Christ, and what an example to the rest of us!

Fr. V. ~ Yup, that's what I meant. :-)

angelmeg said...

I have a different problem in my diocese; I am struggling with a heirarchy that prays for priestly and religious vocations, but sees no need what-so-ever to pray for married and single. Their rational is that there isn't a "crisis" in those vocation, meaning numbers I suppose. I would counter that one only has to look at divorce rates among Catholics to see that there is in fact a crisis in the vocation of married life.

Anyway, there are priests in my diocese who dont' even recognize married life as a vocation equal in holiness to their own. It makes me crazy.

I totally agree that some are called to be single for the kingdom just as some are called to religious life. I think the idea of the single life as inactivated vocation is scandalous.Most single adults I know are actually more active in the church and thier faith because they are single.

Interesting about being pulled toward the Dominican charism. I would explore that more if you can.

I at one time thought I wanted to become a Secular Franciscan, but an interesting set of events made that impossible at the time. Now I can see that it wasn't right for me. My Spiritual Director says I could never choose one specific order because I would have to give up my love of all the others in order to make that choice. Perhaps he is right, I love all the saints too much to focus my spirituality on the teachings of just one.

adoro said...

angelmeg ~ I am actively working on it, but I don't know where it is going. Or what I've just jumped into.

As far as entering a secular order, you're not really just "focusing" on the teachings of ONE saint, but rather, living by the spirituality of that particular order....in the Dominicans, there are TONS of Dominican Saints. And it doesn't exclude your ability to read the works of Saints of other spiritualities. I have Saints from all over, and they want what God wants...to be led to wherever our gifts will be used to further His kingdom.

Maybe a secular community isn't for everyone. I never felt drawn to it before this, maybe because I wasn't ready. And maybe this still isn't what God wants. We'll see what happens!

Oh, and I find it scandalous that your diocese isn't praying for the Married vocation! There is a greater crisis there than in any Vocation!

Anonymous said...

I mean this only in kindness, but maybe you're putting the cart before the horse? God never tells me squat in advance--I have to surrender to him first & THEN he gives me a clue. With such a strong desire to commit yourself but uncertainty about the specifics, maybe you need to make some serious act of interior oblation before He tells you what to do next.

Adoro te Devote said...

Anon ~ Sometimes that is my experience, too. But there's a lot that is not contained in this post, and which will likely never appear in a post. Tonight I recieved the confirmation from several sources to move ahead. Because I am not acting alone, but with a group of people who feel as I do.

If I were an island, I would agree with you. But I am not an island in this regard, and I can't do anything but react to this (which, by the way, is completely out of character for me.)

God is good! And I will move until I hit a brick wall...and then I will discern whether it is a brick wall or just a hologram!