Saturday, October 03, 2009
Reevaluating the Single Vocation
Disclaimer: This is a "thinking out loud" post, otherwise known as...pondering ponderously, not looking for agreement or disagreement, not advancing a position, just...putting thoughts into words and seeing where it ends up. This will be a long post. Get yourself some coffee or maybe a nice cup of tea. Sleepytime Tea might be appropriate.
I used to write on this a lot, and my position was that being Single is a legitimate Vocation, although such goes against John Paul II's Theology of the Body. I changed my position on that after awhile, and have been holding to the standard that there are but three possible Vocations: Marriage, Priesthood, and Religious Life.
I eliminated Marriage; at a wedding a couple years ago, a truly beautiful wedding involving a Presentation to the Blessed Virgin Mary after the Vows, I was absolutely floored to realize I didn't WANT to get married! EVER! And it was one of the most freeing, refreshing moments of my life. It was not to say I did not love and support marriage, but just the realization God was not calling me to it. It was beautiful.
This revelation freed me to comfortably discern religious life, knowing the door to Marriage was closed.
Where does that leave the Single life?
It's a legitimate question. For myself, I'd stopped considering it. The Single life, as it is lived today, is simply unnatural. I know that what I'm living just isn't right somehow, although I can't really put it into words. We Singles, at least in America, tend to live alone, or maybe with one or two others who may or may not share our religious and moral beliefs (which SHOULD be one and the same, but just sayin'). Myself...I live in solitude, and as much as I love my solitude, I know that it is somehow disordered. It's not what is supposed to be. It hinders my ability to grow in holiness for there is no one to hold me accountable for my behavior, even in the little things.
Single life was not always so, nor is it so everywhere, although as the world as a whole becomes more secularized and less family-oriented, the disordered existence of the single life is becoming even more so. What do I mean by that?
Juxtapose the first paragraph of this section with other cultures: single women live with their families, maybe for life. They live to take care of their parents, to assist with nieces and nephews, remaining always a part of a community of sorts. When monasticism was more common, single women would enter what was then called "Third Orders", and live their single life in the community, with their family, but they weren't proper religious. They lived for the Church, they cared for the poor...but they lived a limbo that did not belong properly to marriage OR religious life.
A Brief and Incomplete Discussion on "Third Order" or "Tiertiary" statuses
The Third Orders have changed over time. Some Third Orders today are proper Religious who take vows and wear a habit, such as the Third Order Franciscans. (You would recognize them as such: Father, Brother or Sister John Mary, TOR)
I had my head bitten off by our local Vocations Director when I used the term "Third Order" in an email, because, confusingly, some Lay Orders still use the term "Third Order" and most do not, all due to the changing terms. Those orders that are proper religious get snarky when lay communities continue to use the term, and I'm quite sure Fr. Vocations Director has gotten an earful more than once himself. Which he passed on to me. Point taken.
Yet I have also come to learn that even using the term "Secular Order X" is in question, for some Secular Orders are actually religious, too...in a way. And I don't totally understand that. So I'm leaving it alone.
What we seem to have available to us, in terms that offend no one and don't crowd in on anyone's wanting to redefine terms that are constantly being couched or appended, for good or bad, is the phrase, "Lay".
We the laity, whether married, single, or even those who are Clergy (Priests, Deacons), can all enter into communion with a religious community as a "Lay Dominican" or "Lay Franciscan" or a "Lay Cistercian". Each Order seems to have a different term to apply to this particular status. The more left-wing Religious Communities call them "Consociates" or maybe "Affiliates". The more traditional (and I mean really traditional) will still use the term "Third Order." I don't think anyone uses the term "Tiertiary" anymore.
Why did I digress into all this? Because if I didn't, some commenter would jump in and define all this, and I have no doubt that will STILL happen because it's IMPOSSIBLE to be thorough in what is intended to be a brief blog post. (Which alone is clearly an impossible feat for me.)
Anyway, what does this all have to do with the Single life?
EVERYONE who reads my blog knows that I've really been struggling lately. I've been on edge, outright depressed, realizing that yes, God is calling me to something, but it's not Marriage, it's not Religious Life (which I thought it was, as my only other option), and my longer-term followers know that some time ago I was working with others on forming a chapter of Lay Dominicans. Which finally hit a wall and died. For ALL of us who were exploring the option. The Holy Spirit has spoken.
So here I am, still a single woman, still certain I am NOT called to marriage. So often I am in Adoration while weddings take place next to the chapel. I hear the music, watch the Bride and Groom process out with great joy, and still...it doesn't call me. I'm happy for them and pray for them and hope they realize that their Vows before God and the Church are for life. But I don't want to be there and be one of them.
I've written of how Religious Life isn't calling me, either. Maybe that was the source of my terrible terrible interior experience while I visited the Sisters this summer; it ISN'T calling me, although I so thought that it was...and SHOULD.
Because, as I said before....it was my only other option. Knowing that I wasn't called to Marriage, knowing the Single life isn't right and isn't a legitimate Vocation, well...religious life has to be IT!
And so many told me how the Hound of Heaven would come after me if I tried to flee my Vocation, how I won't attain the holiness God has in mind for me, how I won't find true happiness if I flee and just ignore the Call. Some have said they think I'm just not accepting the Gift of Vocation (implying in the context of our conversations that my Vocation is religious life), and the worst, the worst, the very worst...the implication that I should just "do it!" because I allegedly have nothing to lose.
I confess I have sometimes thought that if I won the lottery, I'd pay off my debt, get rid of my stuff, and enter religious life, if I was accepted. But that wouldn't be a true sacrifice, would it? And those AREN'T my circumstances. The reality is that YES I have something to lose, and maybe God isn't calling me to lose it. The fact that I don't currently happen to CARE about what I have to lose doesn't mean that God doesn't have something to say about it.
I can't make a decision on something so important as my Vocation just because maybe I have "nothing to lose". If I don't know what I truly have, if getting rid of my house, my debt, my crappy stuff isn't a loss to me, how is that a sacrifice? Isn't that just looking for escape?
No. I won't enter religious life on a whim that I have "nothing to lose". That's a fallacious argument from silence. I might in fact, be placing myself out of God's will to do such a thing. I truly don't care if I lose all that I own. The sad thing is...it all owns me. I CAN'T escape it. I have nowhere to go. My impediment to entering religious life...I am owned. By sin and by debt and it's all my own fault. If it was what God intended for me originally, in any case, I don't want it and the door is shut.
And that's what it comes down to; I don't want it and the door is shut. I shut it. Maybe God already did but I thought it open. I tried the knob, it hasn't opened, maybe it's just stuck, but I'll take a hint. NO ONE can say I didn't seriously attempt to open the door. No one who knows me.
Or maybe my depression of the last couple weeks is indicative of my interior struggle at refusing God's sincere Call. I'll be discussing that option with my SD and with no one else.
So I am back to being Single
Do you see why I've been so depressed?
The premise that I have sought so sincerely, and single heartedly has not been borne out.
I defined my options as Priesthood, Marriage, and Religious Life. I am a woman and God has said only men are called to be Priests, and I agree with God on that. Wholeheartedly! I have eliminated Marriage, and now, I have eliminated Religious Life.
I am bereft.
Single, alone...without a Vocation. God has left me abandoned. So it seems.
A friend a few years ago, before I began discerning anything, said to me, "It's clear you have been set aside."
At first I was insulted, but over time came to realize that "set aside" is the highest of compliments. Things that are holy are said to be "set aside". They are marked in a special way to be designated for God, to point to God, to be used by God for something amazing.
For the record, there is NOTHING amazing about me. I don't stand out in a crowd and never will (Ironic I used to want to be famous. How dumb.) If I could avoid standing in front of a crowd and speaking...I would. If I could hide under my desk at work all day and just push stuff out through a little window...I would.
Then, today, I had an amazing revelation as I did my Mariology reading. There was mention of St. Catherine of Siena, one of my favorite Saints.
Back to the Single Vocation
St. Catherine of Siena was SINGLE. She was not properly a religious. Yes, she wore a habit as a Tiertiary Dominican, but she lived at home, with her family. At the command of God, she was essentially cloistered in her own room for three years, communing with God. She was an Anchoress, receiving visitors at her window, providing spiritual direction. Her mother used to command her to "Come out and help with the housework!".
Finally God told her to be obedient to her mother and to do as she asked. This St. Catherine did, and also entered into the community to care for the sick. And not just the sick, but those most ailing. Those no one wanted to touch. (I'm quite certain St. Catherine of Siena was a great inspiration for Bl. Mother Teresa!)
St. Catherine's family tried to force her into marriage, but she "disgraced" herself by cutting her hair. God never called her to Marriage. He never called her to enter the Dominican Monastery and live as a contemplative religious.
In her time, yes, she wore a habit and fulfilled all, but her juridical status was as a single woman...and what great things she did! She lived and died for God! She had a mystical marriage to Him, suffered hidden stigmata (which appeared after her death), and as a Single woman...saved the Church.
St. Joan of Arc was also a single woman. God did not call her to enter a religious community, and did not call her into marriage. She lived for God and died for Him, a virgin martyr.
Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, did all he did as a single man. I believe he discerned he was called to marriage, so an argument can be made there. However...he was never married, was he? In reality, he lived and died in God's will...as a Single man. He, too, for those who don't know, was a Third Order Dominican.
I have to say, then....was he REALLY called to Marriage? It seems not, for he did all of his great work in this life as a Single man, and died before Marriage. As that Married Vocation wasn't lived out, can it really be said he was called to Marriage? I don't think it can. God couldn't have called him to marriage if He had intended and known that dear Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati be called Home before such Vows could be expressed.
There are other Saints and Blesseds out there who make this point.
A Vocation isn't a Vocation until it is realized. Until then, it is all discernment.
Just as in law, the crime label upon someone isn't imposed until sentencing (which is often for a lesser charge), so it is in the spiritual life a Vocation isn't imposed until profession or ordination.
That is what is binding.
So perhaps, after all this, God is calling me to the Single Life. So be it. I will accept that. All it means is that once again I am thrust into discernment; for the Single life, properly lived, still means there is a mission and there must be some kind of consecration to God, whether ordinary or extraordinary.
As there is nothing extraordinary about me, I'll once again look into what is ordinary (i.e. Lay Dominicans, where I am most drawn) and hope to live out the simple holiness God has always intended for me. We are ALL called to Holiness, and no matter what, I will work on that foundational principle of the Christian life.
Single, apparently IS a Vocation...but not one without strings. So I'm off to find that string again, one I thought was gone but maybe is just waiting for me to come back to it.....
St. Catherine of Siena, St. Joan of Arc, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati.... PRAY FOR US!
*********Please, for the love of God and for His Mercy, stop offering me advice. I'm not asking for any and don't need it. Thank you. ***