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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Vocation: What about us?

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We have covered the Vocations of the Institutions of marriage, consecrated life, ordained ministry.  But before we embark on the season of Lent, we should look once more at those who do not fit into these categories.  Whether widows, divorced, unmarried, youth, displaced persons, or all other groups that don’t seem to “fit in,” there is a real sense that these people could feel like modern lepers – isolated, unclean, and abandoned.  And this isolation, this way that our culture breeds separation in the midst of technology, breeds fear of your neighbor in the midst of so many freedoms, this is perhaps the greatest disease of our developed world.  It is a spiritual sickness, not a physical one; and as Jesus makes clear for the leper today, it is nothing to be ashamed of, and the leper is not guilty of any sin.  So too the isolated of our day needs to be welcomed into the community of the church so that they can be healed.
But what about the vocation of those who are not part of the main institutions we covered over the last few weeks?  We see their vocation in light of the universal vocation, and in a parallel way from the other vocations.  Let’s start with a text that outlines a basic truth of Christianity.  In a homily for a priestly ordination in 1993, the future Pope Benedict noted how important it is for us to find the truth of the human person not in self-actualization, but rather in self-gift:
[T]his self-abandonment, this allowing the ego to be immersed and to disappear in him, and so too this placing of my own will in his, very profoundly contradicts our attitude toward life—and I suppose this has been the case in every age. For, indeed, this ego is precisely what we want to assert; we want to fulfill it, put ourselves forward, have ownership of our life, and thereby draw the world into ourselves and enjoy it and leave a trace of ourselves in such a way that this ego persists and keeps its importance in the world. It is characteristic of the present era that [there is] an ever greater, ever more dominant sector of the population made up of persons who enter no lasting relationship but are just “I” and lead only this life of their own. And, indeed, there is something like an almost traumatic fear of fruitfulness, because the other might take our place away, because we feel that our share of existence is threatened. And ultimately this retreat into wanting to be only myself is fear of death, fear of losing life, all that we have and are. But as the Lord tells us in the Gospel: Precisely this desperate attempt to possess the ego entirely after all, to possess at least this and as much of the world as can possibly fit into this ego—leads to it becoming withered and empty. For man, who is created in the image of the triune God, cannot find himself by closing himself up in himself. He can find himself only in relation, in going out, in self-giving, in the gesture of the dying grain of wheat.
So truly here we can see the reality not only of priesthood, but of all vocations.  It is a reality that Jesus expounds for us clearly when he said “He who saves his life will lose it; he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”  All of us, no matter what our vocation is, must give ourselves away, must lose ourselves in something greater, ultimately losing ourselves in God.
One of the huge traps of our super-individualized culture is that we are tempted to shy away from permanence.  We see the world as changing too fast, and in ways that are too hard to predict, so therefore we fear making choices that will tie us down and trim our options.  How can I remain my true self (worldy wisdom would say) if I am stuck in a certain way of living?
This spiritual disease of our culture looms most dangerously over those whose vocation is not concretely tied up with lots of obvious things.  The priest, the married man or woman, and the religious brother or sister have a clearer sense of how they are to give of themselves from day to day.  The single person, the divorced, the widowed, etc. do not have that clarity, and the temptation to remain free from some kind of commitment is powerful.  I think it is important for these people (and for all of us in many ways) to not be afraid to step one bit at a time into a deeper commitment to sacrificial self-gift: whether in the parish, in your families, in your friendships, in a volunteer organization, in your prayer.  The question should be: God, how are you calling me to give myself in a committed way to building up your kingdom?  Lord, give me the courage to walk where you lead me one day at a time.
Let us finish with a poem, a prayer, by Cardinal Newman, when at a dark time in his life he had trouble seeing the way but knew who could show him.

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
          Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
          Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that Thou
          Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
          Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
          Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
          The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile

Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

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