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Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Crucible of Discernment

One of the great frustrations of discerning one's vocation is that there are always those in the peanut gallery who seem to think it's a way to "run away" or "avoid responsibility." (This applies specifically to discernment of the Priesthood and of Religious Life. Somehow Marriage is not seen as an "escape").  I've written before of those people (usually not Catholic, but sadly, sometimes are) who, thinking they are being helpful, will ask, "Why are you trying to escape?"

When I initially wrote of this, I did so in a humorous way, finding it necessary to laugh so that I didn't reach through various modes of communication (including across a table) to strangle the other party.

The risk of writing about discernment via blog is that it puts it "out there" for people to "analyze" according to their own opinions, through their own filter of temperament and personality and maybe even experience....or a total lack.

There are those who have accused me, both to my face, and behind my back, of being disingenuous, of seeking to avoid responsibility, of seeking to escape the "reality of life" simply because I am trying to be obedient to God's will and the course of discernment He wants me to follow. (Which, for the record, doesn't go according to my plan, but His. I don't understand His ways at all. If I was in charge this question would be long settled!)

I've seen those accusations, for years, lobbied at anyone in discernment, even those who DON'T blog about it!  "You're just finding real life to be hard and you're trying to get away.  You're trying to avoid responsibility for what you've done, so suck it up and quit using God as an excuse. You're just trying to escape real life. Go out and get laid. That's all you need. Once you meet the right guy/girl you'll come to your senses. You're too outgoing/quiet/studious/dumb/goody-goody/bad/choose your own objection to be a priest/religious.)  *yawn*  There are others, but I tire of the litany of humanity's objections to God's call.

On one hand, I want to fall over laughing at the absurdity and arrogance of such comments. But what strikes me now is really how intellectually and spiritually dangerous, not just to the hapless "targets" of such spiteful commentary, but to others who are pondering discernment, or pondering writing about it, does to them.  Such uncharitable commentary from allegedly "good Catholics" can actually be sufficient to drive a delicate soul away from revealing to someone  the deepest longings of their heart, for fear of perhaps experiencing in person the same kind of outright ridicule they read on "Catholic" blogs. Blogs that seem holy one moment but then rashly condemn a host of people in the next, as if they are set in place with the right to judge souls and the discernment belonging only to those souls and to God.

And that thought brings me to tears.

How many souls are lost just because of rash commentary, made in the heat of the moment, but regretted when the flash of self-righteous indignation fades away, becoming sheepish embarrassment at a transient moment of reaction to a mirror held to oneself?

I am not picking on anyone: I speak from my own unfortunate experience.  No, wait. Not "unfortunate". That is a word that seeks to avoid responsibility. Rather, I speak from a past of willful experience, of moments of Pride, of even current temperamental moments.

I often wonder how many souls I have driven from the Faith on my snarkiest of days, but, with even more horror, of the effect I've had through simple thoughtless comments??? I often wonder why I continue to write about discernment at all when I know that every word I write is being subjected  to people with all sorts of intentions, reading it through their own biased filter. People who don't know me, but pretend, in their own hearts, that they do. Pretending they can judge my soul, simply because they read some of my words.

It makes me squirm to be under such a glass, and still I squirm more when I ponder that I have placed myself in this position.

So why do I continue?

I think  I keep doing it because every so often, usually when I'm about to delete the whole thing, someone I've never heard of sends me an email maybe with regard to a current post, maybe with regard to something "ancient".  They remind me through what they reveal of their own history that it's not about me, but really, I'm doing it for THEM.

I may think I'm telling my story, but no; I'm telling the story of a lot of people who have had the same types of experiences, who struggle in the same ways, who are seeking God with all their hearts (or as much as our sinful habits/lives will allow), hoping one day to finally break through and truly take hold of the Cross that has given us a journey to holiness that includes a particular crucible of lengthy discernment.

Some days I want to just give up and say, "Great I work in a parish and this is what I'll do the rest of my life whether I like it or not. Because I can't do anything else."  (Which makes me pull the covers over my head and consider calling in dead.)

And then I remember that life isn't about "doing", but about BEING. Holiness is about finding our happiness in God alone, and for many people, it means burning off a whole lotta junk before we can even be OPEN to accepting the kind of love He has to offer, and in that process, learning how to love others as He does, especially when those others are bent on our destruction.

Have you ever had someone actually wish failure upon you? And know they're praying for it?

It's really hard to love someone who does such a dirty deed...and yet...we must. Even if by reading that line alone you are wounded to the core of your soul, know that your own wounding is a sign of how deeply you must pray, not for those who are likewise wounded, but for those who throw the spears.

I wouldn't say I'm good at that. When I'm offended for others, or for myself, I admit I hold a grudge. I admit that I want nothing more than to rip that spear out and throw it back as hard as I can.

I have a sense of justice that is not holy; I often want divine retribution so I say, but truly what I really desire is to carry out that divine retribution through my own hands.

Then I have to stop and think. What do I really want? Who am I fighting? What am I fighting against?

Do the opinions of others really matter?

Isn't vocational discernment between the soul and God? Doesn't He know the path that must be followed for the good of that soul?

Who cares about the paltry snarkiness of blogger A or commentator B?  Isn't their own lack of prudence  part of their own personal battle? Their own sense of regret, especially if they identify so much with another soul that they find the need to vilify it?

Often vilification comes from one's own self-loathing; a core of anger from unresolved pain. It usually has nothing to do with the "target".

As impatient as I am with my own "progress" or alleged "lack thereof" in my own discernment process, I am at a rare point of comfort with it. Thanks to my spiritual director who knows the details, my past, my present, and my greatest desires, I have been reminded that God has His timing, and no one forces His hand. It is a comfort to have that reminder.

There is no way around it; for many of us, the process of discernment is a crucible designed for our purification. It is designed by God to help us to grow in foundational virtues, to identify our habits, our passions, our lack of control. It gives us the chance to grow in virtue. In my case, I am seeking to grow in patience, prudence, and charity.

Most of all, charity. Divine charity; the virtue that bonds all other virtues. The virtue that was nailed to the tree to restore us to God and make us adopted sons and daughters. That virtue.

Discernment is a way to enter into the very Passion of Our Lord, to truly live in the harshest part of the  shadow of the Cross, witness to Crucified Love while living a life of pleading desperation.

As hard as this experience has been, I am thankful for it. As hard as it is to suffer the "slings and arrows" of fellow bloggers, friends, family, and random strangers, I wouldn't trade it for the world.

I still can't see an end to this pilgrimage, but perhaps over time I am growing in trust. Or perhaps I am just becoming numb to the pain.

Time will tell. God will reveal His plan in His time, and in the meantime I'll be putting one foot in front of the other, plodding onward, grateful to still be standing.

1 comment:

Maria said...

My Father had a saying: God is always right on time...