Vocation: other--Some Meditations

Let me begin by saying that in a more pious world, what I’m about to meditate upon would likely not be so, but we can only work in the age in which we are providentially chosen to live. In my opinion, based upon years of study, we have perhaps not since the conversion of Constantine seen the effects of our fallen human nature more on display, a canker and a rot infecting our social and cultural lives to their very core. From the ill effects of this none are exempt, so much indeed that the most valid guides written in past years often seem hopelessly unfeasible, written as they were for more functional societies, and what wisdom we may glean from them might often seem ineffective as we fumble, half-blindly, toward our intended destination.

That destination is, of course, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the eternal company of Jesus Christ and all His angels and saints in a manner far more direct than the fading illusions of this earth would make us believe. In her prudence, Mother Church has, from the teachings of her Master, left us a number of specific routes by which we might come to make this journey, along which, following the prompting of a very interior call by God the Holy Ghost, we might tread, and the name given to these is vocations. We customarily think of three of these: the religious of regular life, considered the most perfect and the royal road to heaven; the secular clergy, whereby men can administer the sacraments and serve in the person of Christ to the lay faithful; and the common vocation of marriage among the lay faithful, which correlates to the natural law and to which the vast bulk are called.

But I must now wonder: what of those who have no call to any of these, and who come to know this definitely not by navel-gazing, but rather through the doors to them being continually shut in his face? For such is my present situation, and it appears to me unlikely to change within the near future.

So many seem would seem to say that I’m placed in a “single vocation.” Well, I don’t buy that. I don’t see my not being within the ranks of the religious or clergy to be a call of God; indeed, I don’t see any statement with a “not” given to something salutary in it in it to be a call of God. And indeed, my response to grace is certainly not a “not” to something, save sin. Where I stand is not something that anyone ought to define negatively. Perhaps in a more functional world, I’d have more of a definite ecclesiastical place, but this is not my point right now.

So, as my title indicates, if I must be in some sort of category, I see myself as positionally “other.” I don’t see myself as single, because I don’t see my non-clerical, non-religious, non-married state as any more than a means to an end. I chose it not; rather, I chose a life of study, teaching, and writing, and it just so proved that not marrying was the best means to that end. And it just so proved that my bishop cared little for my objective, and that my habits were made before religion emerged as an option. I was called to the life I lead now; the other situation was a means to an end.

It’s not ecclesiastically defined, but it appears like I fall in the category of “other,” at this point, and it leaves me an incredible freedom to influence others and to devote much time to meditation. So why on earth do so many look on what I don’t do rather than what I actually do in this life? Would that we had a better Church and society, I’d surely be in a better state. But I’m not at this point.

So, any thoughts?

I am in the exact same position. Everything in my life at the moment is a big series of “Nots…” and “Don’ts” and “Thou Shall Nots…” The Church has outlined the 1001 things to stay away from and to avoid and to run from and the handful of things to run towards (prayer, the Sacraments…etc.). But other than that, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with this life, where to go, who to be around, nor do I desire to do anything, go anywhere, or be around anyone in particular. So I don’t. And I don’t hear a calling toward anything in particular either, so my life is a constant absence of something to do between going to Mass, Confession, and work, Mass, Confession, and work…etc.

Sometimes it seems like the moment I step out of my weekly Confession the clock is already ticking down to the moment that I’m going to be back there again, simply out of boredom half the time. Sometimes it feels like I sin and go to Confession just to do “something” with myself, otherwise what else am I called to do? I have no immediate desire to marry, to become a priest, or to enter the religious life. I don’t feel content in the “single” “none of the above” life either. Sometimes it feels like whenever I leave confession, I go a few days and it’s like “okay now what?” … “what is there to do now except to fall into sin and go back to Confession?” It seems all I’m called to do at the moment.

So I can’t be of much help other than to say you’re not alone in this. :confused:

Mark, I empathize a lot, but I think we’re focusing somewhat on different matters. In the case that your life seems filled with anomie and emptiness or the struggle against sin seems insurmountable, your mandate then is clear: fill it. Spiritual direction can be invaluable as regards the pious practices of prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, and the like. If you wish, I can offer a few suggestions as to that, and also, because even cloistered religious do not spend their entire lives in contemplation, certain secular practices that may assist you. Things such as these truly are my lifeblood, and with your leave I’m more than willing to share them.

But where I am focusing, though, is on the matter of the statuses that I’ve ascribed to myself contrasted with the statuses that others here, it seems, would ascribe to me. Let’s face it: in my morning meditations, I don’t ask, “How might I serve Thee today as a non-vowed, non-ordained, non-married man?” As far as the role I play in the Church and in the world, I think about that situation about as much as I do the fact that I am blue-eyed or right-handed.

Nonetheless, it is looking like the lens through which many souls would desire to look at me and others in my situation, and that scarcely does justice to my various attainments and my gifts of nature and grace–that is, those things that I consider far more valuable than any undifferentiated and negatively defined “other” category. Where I’ve been called is not really to a certain state in life, but to particular tasks or missions (education, writing, and study) that those in any state of life can and do fulfill. It just so happens, though, that a constellation of causes has conspired to keep me from becoming an ecclesiastical person (in retrospect, providentially) and, as matrimony is not as salutary as celibacy, I’m quite disinclined to go there.

But the vocation clearly is to the work, not so much to the state of life. Ideally, I’d think, one inclined to this sort of work should become an ecclesiastic, but our world is far from ideal. Nor is the state of life even a sort of format to it, because it is indeed a lack of format. So I’ve made a format for my work and life through a modest and adaptable regula vitae.

So in short, that’s what I do. Why all this focus upon what I and others like me are not doing?

Might I say that your patient articulation and vocabulary is amazing to me. Please forgive if I’ve derailed or distracted from your main line of thought. If you’d like, I very much appreciate your offer for assistance and would certainly appreciate any help you can give (perhaps privately) in these matters of spiritual direction and “filling it” (the void that is).

I’ve seen the “single” vocation (if we can even call it that) discussed on here before and exactly what it constitutes, and I think this discussion is as old as the Church itself. I recall 1st Corinthians 7, even St. Paul didn’t know what to say about this “vocation” it would seem: “Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord…” and he went on to merely say that he thought it was permissible and good to be “whatever” that life does entail. Exactly what it entails though would seem to be whatever it entails for the one living it. I don’t think it’s merely a “lack of something” though.

I don’t know if I’m contributing anything of value here, but I’m also reminded of St. Therese de Lisieux who wrote on “little actions performed with great love.” Thus what we get with the “other” vocation is perhaps a distillation of what it means to have a vocation down to its very Christian activity and motivation but without a unifying context (like a “marriage” or an “ordination”)? I don’t know. I’m throwing these ideas out here.

The Pauline counsels here are a good starting point, but in order to understand the full quandary, we’d really need to take a long walk throughout the history of the Church from Paul’s time until today. He gave no command to the celibates prominent in the primitive Church–of which he was the foremost, I add. That lack of command allowed for many to go off to the desert to live ascetic lives as hermits, and then later to join together for mutual support and writing rules for life, thus giving us monasticism and religious life as we know it, which then continued to permute into its various forms throughout the centuries. Now religion, or even the secular clergy who have as well adopted this holy discipline, is seen as the normative place of the celibate, and not the world.

But I think we are coming to an ecclesiastical crisis-point the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Protestant Reformation, and a good evidence of this are the number of rather good and faithful Catholics who likely should be religious or clergy, and yet are not. We can cast blame on a number of reasons for this: worldly enticements that strain family life; the effects of secular education; ossification of certain ecclesial institutions; the vanishing of religious life from public consciousness; and squabbling, factionalism, and prejudice among hierarchs and superiors. That last one vexes me the most, as I am very much a TLM supporter in an area where it still seems informally forbidden, and one must never, ever let anyone in the chancery know of his fondness for this form of the Mass.

Casting blame, though, is often a foolish and unproductive activity, so it behooves us now to look at what those who have lived continent lives outside of an ecclesiastical context have done when they discerned a call to greater holiness. Let’s just look at St. Francis for a moment. What was he before he left town to go to San Damiano? Certainly there must have been many in Assisi who would wonder at that, and say to themselves, if it is holiness he is seeking, why does he not just go to the cloister? But had he done that, it would have been putting a candle under a bushel, and we’d not have the great Franciscan family that has been of such value to the Church. And to think that it came about because one man, unconstrained elsewhere, chose to constrain himself not in any established manner, but in the manner that God the Holy Spirit led him to.

The list of saints who have defied social conventions in such a manner is likely numberless. Our times being as they are, I can fully anticipate many who take their call to holiness quite seriously coming to understand why the model of the primitive Church needed improvement, and being that improvement in much the same spirit as our greatest saints.

Mark, I will send you a brief questionnaire by private message.

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