I am usually amused with people who ask me if I am going to become a nun since I am "so Catholic," especially since I discerning going to graduate school for a MA in Theology instead of my original decision of a MS or MBA in Marketing. Firstly, let the record stand: No, I am not. I did pray and discern about whether I had a religious vocation during college, but that time period was quite brief and very confirming. Besides, I've always been more interested in being a missionary if anything. (But that's another story, for another post.)
Secondly, I am not "so Catholic"-- I am just "Catholic." There is nothing special about me compared to other Christians or Catholics; we are all equal in the sight of God. I follow Jesus Christ, the Church he founded, and her teachings for eternal salvation. Catholics are called to live and preach their faith; but if fellow Catholics do not do so, this does not make them "less Catholic." To be a Catholic is to believe and uphold what the Roman Catholic Church stands for and teaches.
I had a teacher in college who is a fallen-away Catholic. He told me I was the most dogmatic person he has ever met. I think that is an exaggeration, and maybe even a compliment, but it certainly did not stop us from talking about the faith. He liked me because I was a good writer, worked hard and always wanted to improve. He told me I'll go far, if that is what I want. He was supportive when I was discerning whether journalism was really for me in the long-term. He fascinates me. He really does. I can see grace working in his life. I can see how Catholicism has shaped him, and still does, whether he chooses to participate in the sacraments or not.
One of the things I love best about being Catholic is the belief in free-will and choice. I have to choose every day to be Catholic. I've had to make decisions that will affect the rest of my life, and make sacrifices in personal relationships, because I am Catholic. I am sure I will face many more. There is the hard-to-accept "just because you can, doesn't mean you should" notion that has haunted me my entire life. I've always been very rebellious. I don't like being told what to do. I'm impulsive. I'm passionate. I like being in charge. I've always strove to do, not just be.
But, especially in the past year, I've become less so. This does not mean I now roll over and blindly submit to everything. It means I am making a choice. As a writer, I've grown very used to being open to change and correction. To become better, I have to be edited for style, substance and grammar; otherwise, my writing would only get worse and no one would read me.
It is the same with relationships and the ability to receive constructive criticism. They are both a necessary part of growing as a person. My dad used to tell me, "Julie, we love you, so we're trying to toughen you up--just like steak tenderizer." And you know what? I tend to like people more who genuinely give me criticism for my growth, as opposed to those who give me advice while thinking of themselves or trying to make a point. This is the same with discernment of vocation--being open to answering the call of Christ in your life. Being humble enough to recognize that he has a purpose for you, and that purpose might not be what you have in mind.
Having a vocation is not just for religious people. The topic of vocation is possibly one of the most frustrating topics for me to research. So many resources are very well-equipped to handle people being called for the priesthood or to be a sister or nun (there is a difference-- they take different vows; sisters lead a more active life in the community, and nuns lead a more monastic life). What about us laity?
St. Thomas More is my favorite example of this, for two reasons. First, because he, as a brilliant lay man, answered the call of being Chancellor of England for his friend King Henry VIII, even though he didn't want to; he also did not back down from his convictions either, especially in his elevated position, which ended up costing him his head in 1535. Second, because of a book he translated-- The Life of Pico-- in which Pico's nephew (who wrote the book) ended this fabulous homage to his uncle by saying he believes Pico went to Purgatory upon dying, not yet Heaven, because he did not follow his true vocation, despite his otherwise faithfulness. Willful disobedience did expel Adam and Eve from the Garden, so it is possible.
Does that jolt anyone else? Discerning one's vocation is tough, mainly because it could very easily change. It is very easy to get caught up in the "I want" part of life. This is not to say "I" am not important and "I" should not do what makes me happy in this life. God wants us to be happy. God also wants us to listen.
Discernment of one's vocation is about actively listening. And that has not been easy for me. I always want to explain my choices to God, even though he already sees into my heart. I do not fight with God, but I certainly do not always agree with many of his decisions. I scrunch up my nose. I ask questions. We have long dialogues. There are painful silences and realizations. And that is okay. There is still joy and contentment. He is, after all, all-knowing.
My vocation may never be fully realized, but, as a Christian, I understand my place in the world regardless of clarity. I have purpose now, as a daughter, sister, employee and friend, and that is why I need to strive to do good- so that one day I will prepared to step into another role. And this is why I am Roman Catholic. Because one person's failing does not weaken the faith or the Church. If I don't listen to God, if I don't do my duty, if I lead others' astray, I am but one person. I like to think I am more important-- that if I say the right thing, do the right thing, all manner of things shall be well. The plan will work. But sin, man's curse, is part of human nature.
Pope Benedict XVI (the-then Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote in his 1963 book Introduction to Christianity,
"[Jesus] has drawn sin to himself, made it his lot, and so revealed what true "holiness" is: not separation, but union; not judgment, but redeeming love. Is the Church not simply the continuation of God's deliberate plunge into human wretchedness; is she not simply the continuation of Jesus' habit of sitting at table with sinners, of his mingling with the misery of sin to the point where he actually seems to sink under its weight? Is there not revealed in the unholy holiness of the Church, as opposed to man's expectation of purity, God's true holiness, which is love, love that does not keep its distance in a sort of aristocratic, untouchable purity but mixes with the dirt of the world, in order thus to overcome it? Can, therefore, the holiness of the Church be anything but the bearing with one another that comes, of course, from the fact that all of us are bourne up by Christ?"
We live in an age that has so much to gain, and even more to lose (a sentiment particularly present in yesterday's Election Day results and in the silly season leading up to it). Walker Percy wrote,
"The old modern age is ended. We live in a post-modern as well as a post-Christian age. ... It is post-Christian in the sense that people no longer understand themselves, as they understood themselves for some fifteen hundred years, as ensouled creatures under God, born to trouble and whose salvation depends upon the entrance of God into history as Jesus Christ. It is post-modern because the Age of Enlightenment with its vision of man as a rational creature, naturally good and part of the cosmos which itself is understandable by natural science-this age has also ended. It ended with the catastrophes of the twentieth century."
Vocation is a gift, and a grace. It is a calling. To have such a God who thinks each of his people is special and, moreover, gives each person has a role, is a blessing. This world has so much potential, with so much to do, and the mystery of humanity and the question of its vocation is nicely characterized by Tolkien, I think, when he says that not all who wander are lost.