Missed vocations, penance, and purgatory

I know there’s a real can of worms to be re-opened here, but it’s perhaps one of those that ought to be looked at time and again.

When we think of the subject of vocation, we tend to mean a particular request of God to embrace willingly a particular state of life, sealed sacramentally or through canonical vows. The important term here seems to be request, as it is a request and never an imposition—and as such it can be declined. God, nevertheless, will give to any faithful person every grace necessary to fulfill the duties of his state in life, whether that call was heeded or not. At least, this is the narrative as I’ve come to understand it.

This idea has been getting to me a little lately. Am I the only one finding it a little Pelagian, as though the old proverb were inverted: “God proposes; man disposes?” But it’s also open to me that I might be trying to use fatalism to quiet a guilty conscience (which truly needn’t be guilty anyway). Perhaps a relation of the relevant parts of my story may be in order:

In my 20s, shortly after I came to take the faith seriously, it occurred that I ought to take the priesthood more seriously. And so I did, and what I experienced of parish and diocesan politics aggravated me so that I found myself rather bilious, defensive, and even at times duplicitous. I felt like that man who no longer loves his wife but still lives uneasily with her. After a few years that still feel wasted, I realized that my wheels were spinning, and it would be best for my health and my sanity to look elsewhere. I thus contacted orders, as my diocese had recommended, only to have several letters come back advising me that I wasn’t quite the candidate they were looking for. On my 30th birthday, I finally got the hint that there wasn’t much of an offer here and prayed simply that God put His offer, His recommendation even, but more preferably His command, right in front of my face so I wouldn’t be plodding along in this limbo any longer.

It should go without saying that that prayer was answered over the next few months. I found work as a college instructor in English and the humanities, a position I hold to this day, in which my interests and talents are surely better used than in past work I’ve held. And then, out of the blue, came the woman, and not just any woman. She was the sweetheart of my 17th year, the first I loved, whom I hadn’t seen since that time. I had not even finished reading her first letter to me before youth’s passions came to inflame my heart, and I was again in love. Upon setting the letter down, I knelt in prayer, asking forgiveness for my lack of trust in divine providence over the past years and giving thanks for the woman, the job, and all good benefits I had received. The offer was made, right in front of my face as I had asked, and was no longer a mere abstraction.

But I let her go. I’d offer a reason, but to this day I’m not sure. I believe self-doubt had a lot to do with it. In any case, thus began the most difficult year of my life, which I didn’t handle very well. I drank a lot and became a social recluse. I felt that I had in an unguarded moment thrown God’s grace back into His face, that I had failed myself, this woman, and God Himself. Every day was another overwhelming experience of guilt and shame. Life seemed to lose its savour. It got very bad when I found out she was engaged to another man. That’s when my confessor told me that I should stop confessing this: if it was sin, it is forgiven; failure to accept that forgiveness is exactly the same thing I did when I let her go. I asked the confessor then why I still feel guilty. The answer: this is my share of the cross; offer it up.

This happened a few years ago, and it taught me a lot about the fallenness of our nature. I’ve since that time continued to focus more on what’s in front of my face, teaching, advising, and mentoring students, even writing for publication. But little seems to have changed otherwise. I’m still just a bachelor academic, still something of a recluse, seemingly meaningless when I return to my apartment at night. And even if this has purged me of much of the bile of my youth, I’m getting into the “over-the-hill” years as far as most religious orders go, and that’s presuming I find this option right before me again.
So as far as vocations go, I’ve chased a phantom which consumed me and then I declined an offer which likewise consumed me. Thinking about the latter still hurts quite a bit; it’s like a continual penance I undertake. Then thinking about where I stand now hurts—and I’m all alone facing it. No sympathetic wife, no wise and holy religious brethren, just me alone in my armchair during the pipe-and-slippers hours in my drafty apartment.

So, back to my point: a vocation is a choice to respond to a divine call in a particular way. My response, very much in spite of myself and of which I repent daily, has been no. Now every no implies a yes. Was I saying yes to make this penance, this solitude my vocation? Other men get to go to their families or dine with their brethren, and I get to go off alone and be sad? I didn’t actively choose this—I didn’t say yes to this; I only said no to something else—and there’s little joy in it. I keep on telling God that I’ll keep doing this so long as He gives me the grace, but I’d rather something else, something with a little less insecurity. And hopefully something somewhat more conventional (Latin-Mass people like myself hate novelty).

(to be continued)

I’d like to weigh in on a particular debate I’ve seen on a few Catholic forums, having put my experience out there: bachelorhood is NOT a vocation, for vocations are chosen; it’s a default. I’ve always felt that those who say otherwise are being patronizing. Some may be consecrated in a third order, to be sure, but most third orders accept the married and priests as well; it’s not unique to the unmarried lay state. Bachelorhood is a state in life, one that becomes more troubling as one ages. It’s like a void in which one may focus on a secondary vocation all the more. This has its benefits, but the workday comes to end, and then we must go back to the consequences of our own sin and fallenness, completely alone like the Desert Fathers—but they chose to go out there.

I’m just here, groping along, with no models particular to our station to follow—as a father has his father, a priest his elder colleagues, a religious his superior and elder brethren; here with all those who haven’t another choice—the children, cripples, crazies, junkies, queers, and assorted other outcasts. And like Our Lord, I too am an outcast; I placed myself here through my failure to obey the will of God, like Jonah in the whale’s belly. The joy of making a complete gift of self is not here; the self is being buffeted and destroyed in this place. And it deserves it. Please do your best not to be patronizing.

And we also speak of the joy of following the Lord. Joy brought me not here but duty. If you don’t love it, then how can you be called to it? Anyhow, so long as I’m to be here, I’ll remain. But I pray that I may feel that joy I felt when the woman come back again at some point. It may be that I have much more penance to do before such a thing happens again. Or it may never happen again. So I’ll just offer the disagreeableness and anguish of my life up in the hope that it means something.

I know I’ve gone all over the place here, but, if this makes any sense to you, what do you make of this?

A “calling” is not something that one chooses from the beginning and then follows it without the slightest doubt and obstacle. That would be a real “default”. But there are priests who find out that marriage would make them more fulfilled or married people who find out that bachelorhood or consecrated life would make them more fulfilled. You find yourself in a situation, accept it and build your life on it or don’t accept it and try to change it; if you can’t change it, you try to extract as much good as you can from it. It’s wrong to say that you can’t fulfill your calling because you are punished for something and need to do more and more penance to “earn” the things that you yearn for. Ultimately, a vocation/calling is what you make of any situation that you find yourself in. This extends way beyond the dilemma married/consecrated/single. Nobody is “called” to inherit a fortune or to suffer from cancer, but the individual can always choose to make the best use of the situation available.

Well said.
“Vocare” (vocation) is from Latin and means “to call”. The Lord is always and forever calling and calling one to holiness no matter where they may find themselves in life. For some it may be marriage, or consecrated life, priesthood, or single lay celibacy and all have their particular/unique duties and responsibilities, accountabilities - and The Lord goes on, continues always “to call” and to call to holiness and until our journey here is ended, until death. Our personal vocation in life sets out for us our duties and responsibilities which will lead and guide us to holiness.

To the OP: bardegaulois…do pray about your situation… and I think you might really benefit from counselling and from a priest. You could make an appointment to talk to your parish priest, or some other priest of whom you know.
Prayers. :slight_smile:

Hi, it does not sound that you were really called to be a priest. at least not at that time you
missed an opportunity for marriage but maybe she was not the one God intended for you. In any case, it is time to forgive yourself and let go of the past. You are being way too hard on yourself.

You can serve God beautifully as an English teacher/professor. Your good example will lead others to God. The laity are called to bring Jesus to the marketplace. We can reach people that the Religious may never meet.

Being single is a gift, a vocation from God. The single person has more time than the married to pursue spiritual things. It is not a sign that the person is a loser. If accepted graciously, it can be a beautiful thing.
I suggest you try to be happy in your current state. A happy person is way more
likely to attract friends and a future spouse than a sad person who stays a recluse.
Get outside, smile, meet people. Join some Catholic groups, meet people, volunteer. The Church can use some fine people like you. (con’td).

You may need to talk with a priest and or a good, holy counselor. You may be clinically depressed. Medication could help.
Do not give up hope. I met and married my wonderful, Catholic husband when I was in my late forties.
Praying for you. God bless you.

bardegaulois, you have a rich style of writing; I am sorry for the loneliness and gray waste in your life, but it was a good read. I also wonder, sometimes, if I made an irrevocable choice that would cause a lifetime separation from companionship with others. If you happen to have a Melancholic temperament (not everyone subscribes to the idea of the 4 temperaments), these feelings may be normal, if that is any consolation.

I’d like to thank you all who took the time to respond. I’ll address each comment individually.

Varnes, you note that “*t’s wrong to say that you can’t fulfill your calling because…” True, and that is why I’m not saying that. I’m saying that I don’t know where I’m to fit in the end, but I’m here now and that it’s a rather insecure situation. I don’t particularly care for it and it’s not where I imagined I’d find myself. In short, I don’t know what to do with it. It was great when I was younger, but now I don’t know what to do with it. I’m unbound by vows, and, short of work, I have no mandate. I know what to do as an instructor, but, when I’m not at work, during the summers and the winter break which seems even longer, I have just the universal call to holiness to guide me—with no specifics as to how to live it out. I have no models, no mentorship. I feel like I’m making it up as I go along and I don’t like it. In my work I have my old professors and my elder colleagues to model. Outside of that, I’m just lost on this one.

Tigger S, “all have their particular/unique duties and responsibilities, accountabilities”—OK, what are they? Beyond the universal vocation to holiness and the exigencies of work in the world, what are they? For a fellow like me, not bound by any vows—and not willing to bind himself to his present estate. Every priest has the same obligations, and every married person has the same obligations. The obligations of religious differ in the details by order but are generally the same. What are mine? Or is this just something else that my fallible deceptive self is going to have to devise as I muddle through?

Jaimeleglise, moi, j’aime l’église aussi! But citing depression or medication is, to my mind, a cop-out (and patronizing to my mind, but I’ll let it go). I’m actually in the midst of writing an article about how the younger generation is not inclined to study literature because every torment experienced by a literary character is now pathologized and medicated, and thus there’s no empathic experience, as there was when I was young and hungry. It’s not pathology; it’s “the sweat and agony of the human spirit,” as Faulkner memorably put it. And sometimes it ain’t pretty.

And SectretaryMonday, I just love that term “gray waste.” And I’m well aware that this is just one of the ways certain men think. Call it melancholic if you will; I spoke about melancholy even before I’d researched the four tempers.

Generally, though, I’m looking at both the benefits and detriments of my life now—grateful for the benefits and penitent about the detriments. And well I know that all states of life have benefits and detriments. Yet, it bugs me that something just doesn’t feel right. Something just doesn’t feel complete. My life is ordered toward nothing in particular, just a sort of abstraction. I find myself yearning for a sort of particularity, a specific way to live the Gospel—and I get none. That’s what feeds my doubts and fears: I know my own judgment isn’t trustworthy, but I seem to get nothing else.

So I’ll open again to any comments or suggestions. All from this forum tend to be very helpful.*

Tigger S, “all have their particular/unique duties and responsibilities, accountabilities”—OK, what are they? Beyond the universal vocation to holiness and the exigencies of work in the world, what are they? For a fellow like me, not bound by any vows—and not willing to bind himself to his present estate. Every priest has the same obligations, and every married person has the same obligations. The obligations of religious differ in the details by order but are generally the same. What are mine? Or is this just something else that my fallible deceptive self is going to have to devise as I muddle through?

Thank you for asking :slight_smile:
Since you now find yourself in the lay celibate state, the duties and responsibilities of your teaching English and the humanities are some of those duties which will lead you to holiness. Over and above that, what all lay Catholics, married or celibate, are called to by The Lord is laid out in The Decree on the Apostolate of The Laity which will fill you right in : vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651118_apostolicam-actuositatem_en.html
It is not a short read, but one that certainly every lay person should undertake, even over a few sittings. Ideally it will be a prayerful read with a short prayer to The Holy Spirit for guidance at beginning and end of each sitting.

I also really do think that you will profit from having a good talk with a priest where all your questions and confusions can be put to Father and on a face to face basis where things can really be talked over and right out. Catholic Discussion sites can be a great resource, but not always the ideal and usually because incoming information can amount to an overload of different opinions and mainly by ‘amateurs’ in spiritual direction, of which I am decidedly one.

I thought this post was an excellent post:

jaimelegliseRe: Missed vocations, penance, and purgatory
Hi, it does not sound that you were really called to be a priest. at least not at that time you
missed an opportunity for marriage but maybe she was not the one God intended for you. In any case, it is time to forgive yourself and let go of the past. You are being way too hard on yourself.

You can serve God beautifully as an English teacher/professor. Your good example will lead others to God. The laity are called to bring Jesus to the marketplace. We can reach people that the Religious may never meet.

Being single is a gift, a vocation from God. The single person has more time than the married to pursue spiritual things. It is not a sign that the person is a loser. If accepted graciously, it can be a beautiful thing.
I suggest you try to be happy in your current state. A happy person is way more
likely to attract friends and a future spouse than a sad person who stays a recluse.
Get outside, smile, meet people. Join some Catholic groups, meet people, volunteer. The Church can use some fine people like you.

God’s rich blessings on your questions and seeking and may He bring to speedily to complete Peace of soul “seek afterPeace and persue it”
Psalm 33 : "Come, children, hearken to me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord. [13] Who is the man that desireth life: who loveth to see good days? [14] Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. [15] Turn away from evil and do good: seek after peace and pursue it.** "**

My prayers.

I know how you feel…well somewhat. I’m pushing 30 and I have been single for a while. loneliness is not very fun. But as I continue to grow in my faith I began to realize I have to first accept my singleness before I can accept a calling to either marriage or the religious life. I don’t believe the single life is a vocation. It is a default. I don’t think anyone is born married or born a priest. The single life is our default, but we are called to the Catholic life. We must learn to live a Catholic life and always be open to the vocations of marriage and the religious life. It’s a little depressing to hear people say they are called to the single life. As if God were to send him a clear sign to join an order he would reject the calling to the religious life because he is “called” to the single life. Or if God were to send her a husband she would ignore him because she is “called” to the single life. I tell the teens I work with that even when they are dating they must continue live their life as a Catholic single until they are married. As you said “If you don’t love it, then how can you be called to it?” So we must first learn to love being Catholic, in the single life without expectations of a future wife or religious brothers, because we are called to be Catholic.

As for the religious life, I believe that every single Catholic man who practices his faith is given the calling to the priesthood. Every young man I see at my parish participating in the youth group or young adults, who is there because they want to be a little closer to God is given the calling. Whether he chooses to accept the calling or not is up to him. I like to think of it like the Green Lanterns. When a Green Lantern dies the power ring seeks out someone new to bear the ring. Someone righteous with strong willpower. When the ring finds that person it is up to him to accept the duties and responsibilities which includes defending the world. Likewise, a man must accept the calling to the priesthood and all the duties and responsibilities that go along with it. Most will not accept the calling, but those who do will become an important part in the salvation of the world.

When I was in the early stages of discerning a vocation to the priesthood I struggles with the problem of my own unworthiness. as far as I was concerned there were many others who were far more committed and faithful to God than I was and, if He wanted, I was more than happy to point them out to him. However, a friend who was one such person said he believed that God calls those who most need His help. So often I’ve found this to be true - many of the people who you would think would make fantastic priests have no calling to the priesthood. Why God chooses to call who He does is often a mystery - something which is certainly clear from the Gospels.

TiggerS, thank you for the link. Unfortunately, while reading I could only think that I am already doing what it suggests (at least those parts pertinent to my station) and am still unfulfilled. One can’t disagree with its broad outline, but something more specific, a clearer and much more explicit sense of what I’m doing and why it is necessary, is needed to get over this temporary rut. Thus, I’ll be contacting a priest who’s directed me in the past to sort this out.

Thanks for your reply.

I am sorry, I meant no disrepect whatsover. Sometimes a prolonged melancholy mood or
negativity is indicative of clinical depression, a biological problem for which one need not
be ashamed. In your case, only you and your doctor would know for sure. I am not here
to judge,only help. God bless you.

I like your sign-on name. My father did his masters’ thesis on the French Troubadours in
medieval French. My mother typed it for him, but she kept having to stop and check with
him about the spelling of the words. She only knew Modern French so she wasn’t sure if
he made spelling errors or if he used the Medieval spellings.

Thank you very much, TiggerS. I truly appreciate it.

Hello all. May I broaden this conversation a little bit? Mikeeh was talking about his work with young people. The freedom, flexibility, and unboundness of celibacy are great for the young. It allows them to devote themselves to preparing for their secular profession and to explore a little more and understand exactly where their adult selves fit in the world and in the Church. But what’s good for somewhat at 20 isn’t necessarily good for someone of 35.

I found this conversation elsewhere (ncregister.com/blog/jennifer-fulwiler/single-catholics-the-world-needs-your-witness), and what interests me so much isn’t necessarily the article but the comments. Many don’t really have that appreciation for the isolation in which so many live (not a peculiarly Catholic phenomenon, but one tending to pervade society today), and can but offer glib bromides. Our old friends marry and we’re cut out of the loop, save chance meetings. We’re invisible at parish and other social functions. Do more socially? That’s really difficult for introverts like myself, and, without any meaningful connections to others, one just feels more lonely, even though you might be surrounded by others. And it worsens with age.

Most talking about this, I might add, seem to be women. Men perhaps have a different stigma. If you’re well into your 30s, not a priest or religious, and not evidently disabled or such, married people seem to wonder what’s wrong with you: is he a lecher? Is he a homosexual? An alcoholic? They start looking for things that would have precluded you from the priesthood, religious life, or marriage, and remain somewhat cold to you. God forbid, moreover, that you should ever speak to the children! Even priests, when they do acknowledge you, are also seeming to wonder what’s wrong with you. Considering so many parish priests live very lonely lives nowadays, one would think they’d be somewhat understanding, but…

Are there any men out there who have particularly experienced this?

I am in the single lay celibate state with private vows and a priest religious superior spiritual director. Very few are aware of the lifestyle that I live and most regard me at 68yrs almost a ‘spinster who got left behind’ and other such derogatory terms. I found my refuge in “take up your cross and follow Me”. This does not make the strictly human part of me any the less humiliated by derogatory descriptions, but it does give the spiritual part of me a strong and positive reason to bear them.
Not all that long ago due to transport and distance, I switched from part time charitable office voluntary work to worthwhile voluntary office work closer to me. In this second job, I have lacked completely any sense of fulfilment whatsoever as the work is quite mundane unlike my initial position. I had to go through a process that is still ongoing with advice from my director - and that was to detach myself from the fulfilment I had in the initial position and accept that in this second position that it was a quite mundane sort of job and then nestle into it. It was a process and accepting the mundane nature of my second job was a process of detachment and acceptance. A process, not an event.

I think one needs to develop an attitude and perspective that one is not wherever one may be by some ‘accident of fate’ - there is no such thing. All is The Holy Spirit and Divine Providence … as mysterious as this can be.

The theology of St Therese of Lisieux and also de Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence have both assisted me in a major way in my journey to date:

Story of a Soul (online) - autobiography of St Therese of Lisieux which outlines her theology. She is now a Doctor of The Church: ccel.org/ccel/therese/autobio.html

Abandonment to Divine Providence (online) ccel.org/ccel/decaussade/abandonment

Also, I thoroughly recommend that every person living the single lay celibate life whether as a transition state while discerning, or as one’s vocation, should read :

The Decree on the Apostolate of The Laity (John Paul II) http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_c…itatem_en.html

:slight_smile:

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