Saturday, January 24, 2009
My vocational discernment is not taking me to comfortable places.
I think that when one considers the idea of discerning one's vocation, it leads to the impression of "warm fuzzies", of finding one's mate, or of finding a joyful happy religious community, or the amazement of the priesthood. And of course, all of that is true, and so it's valid. But it's only part of the story.
Sometimes discernment is very uncomfortable, whether it pertains to a vocation or something else in life. We pray that we are following God's will, that we are open to His will, and that we'll be obedient enough to follow where He leads, even if we don't understand where we are going.
The problem is, that once we ask God to help us be obedient, and once we express that we're open to whatever He desires of us...He answers. When we sincerely pray, and sincerely intend to do as He asks, when we make that prayer of trust, the revelations that come aren't always what we want to "hear."
Sometimes they're the opposite.
I still don't know what God is truly calling me to do, although I'm more and more convinced that religious life lies in my future. And the closer I get to the answer, the more I learn, the more I realize I don't even know all of my options.
I thought I was Dominican, and perhaps that IS my spirituality, but I am not drawn to most of the Dominican communities, even the really popular ones. There's nothing wrong with them; they are faithful to the Magisterium, they preach, they teach, they wear habits, they're not mislead radical feminists out for politics instead of holiness. And I've looked at Dominican cloisters. They are beautiful, but not a single one has "spoken" to me.
My friend Mary has become a cloistered Benedictine nun, and she, too thought she was Dominican in spirituality. I have her Liturgy of the Hours, and can testify to the abundance of Dominican holy cards found within the pages. And the Benedictines also don't pull me in. Yes, I recently read a book about a Benedictine monastery, and enjoyed it, but it didn't make me want to run out and join them.
Then I "discovered" the Cistercians (who are also Benedictine). In looking at a website, in reviewing a Trappist booklet sent from Iowa, in surfing a Cistercian website in Wisconsin, something has drawn me there. There is something so beautiful about their way of life. There is something about the pull of silence, of the idea of chanted prayer, ongoing, in a particular cycle.
I'm going to be honest: I don't WANT to be a cloistered nun!
It's one thing to enter active religious life and be apart from the world but within it. I'd still have certain contact with my friends, even if restricted. I'd never again be hanging out in someone's backyard playing Bocci with a drink in my hand. And climbing bell towers...fogeddabodit! There won't be regular blogging, if at all, or just deciding to do certain things. But overall, it would be a life a lot like the one I live now, enough to be able to adjust reasonably well.
I love the idea of not owning a house or a car in my name. I love the idea of simplification, of getting rid of all my clutter, most of which is useless (if not all).
And I'm not ruling out an active/contemplative community. It's still possible. They're still on my radar screen.
But something about the austerity of the Cistercians draws me, when it didn't before.
This is shocking.
A few years ago, I was in contact with a gentleman, a friend I'd met through Ave Maria Singles (yah, did the website thing), and he was serious about holiness. He wanted to be a Saint. He was looking into lay communities, and knew he was called to marriage although he'd seriously discerned the priesthood. He was hoping to get married, and then enter the permanent diaconate. Let me tell you, this guy is the reason I looked into grad school, and I'll never forget how he expressed that he wanted to be a Saint.
I wasn't, at that time, ready to say I wanted to be a Saint. I didn't think it was possible. My favorite sins were even MORE favorite than they are now, and I didn't even know that some of the things I did then on a regular basis were sins!
But he inspired me, he apparently served the purpose in my life that God wanted him to serve, and although we're no longer in contact, it wasn't out of poor regard, just life in general. I actually wish I could thank him.
My point? I was uncomfortable with the idea of becoming a Saint. It meant I had to change. I had to give up stuff I liked and focus on God.
That's what's going on now, too, but to a different degree. I now know what he was thinking then; I want to be a Saint, too. I'm also looking at a lay community, even to help start one!
But even more radically, I'm sincerely interested in the Cistercians, and if we had them in America, I'd want to visit the Carthusians. Really.
Remember the movie "Into Great Silence", about the Carthusians in France? I own the movie, I enjoy it, but it didn't really get my attention on the discernment front.
Maybe because they're men and not women.
Who knows? Suddenly, that austerity, that silence, that life of prayer and everyday work is appealing.
But there's another dimension, one of which I've spoken before: purgatory on earth. I have sensed for a long time that I'm not "long" for this world. I don't have any fatal diseases that I know of, although anything can happen at any time. When God calls, we will go, that's the simple fact. But sometimes God calls some people early, but to serve while on Earth. To pray for a world that won't pray for itself. To live in penance but without all the fire of purgation.
I realize that if I were to enter a cloister, it would truly be as if I've died. I'll leave my friends, I'll leave my family. I'll no longer have a life to go back to. No home, no car, no stuff. Everything I've collected over life...either in the trash or given away or sold.
It IS like death, a life of chosen isolation, but joy if that is what God has chosen a soul to do.
I'll admit I don't want to go to such a life. I don't want to be a cloistered nun. I don't want to sleep on a hard bed, I don't want to live such a harsh penance. I don't want to be silenced for so long.
The last couple nights I've dreamed of the Great Silence, and it seemed natural to a certain degree. I do think I'd like a lot of it.
But then I wonder at what I'm doing now; what is the point of my degree? Why am I in Grad school? Why have I been a cop and a firefighter and why was I an insurance investigator? Why do I have so much debt, and a house that I won't be able to sell in this market?
I don't know what I want, and I don't have a good track record of choosing things for myself. When I do what I want, it usually ends in disaster.
I don't want that to be the case in this discernment, and so I keep praying for a Spiritual Director. Someone who can help me figure out if I'm attracted to the Cistercians for the same reason I was attracted to law enforcement; because it's tough. Because it means having to overcome myself. Or maybe if my background was part of God's will in order to prepare me to enter such austerity. After all, I have learned in training what I'm capable of both mentally and physically, and I've learned my weaknesses, which is even MORE important than knowing strengths.
After all, as St. Paul said, we can only boast in our weakness. Our strength is Christ, and we ONLY find Him through weakness.
For now, I don't have to make decisions, and I don't know where this will go. I know my next step, I'm working on it, I'm actively doing what has to be done, but some of that action is fully dependent upon God. I can only deal with what's in front of me. And maybe if I go step by step, it won't be so bad as I think.