As a single Catholic man in my early twenties, I remember first hearing God’s call. Up until that call, God was a warm and fuzzy possibility, whom I occasionally praised and worshiped at Mass – when it fit into my schedule (like never) – and to whom I prayed only in my dire need… Despite a lifetime of random teachers, preachers and ‘old folk’ telling me – often out of the blue – that God had a plan for me, I often ignored this truth and their prophetic words and like most early twenty-something’s, focused on finding and living out my own plan for life.
However, when God busted into my life and unquestionably confirmed both His reality and call to me, I was forced to sit down and reevaluate the plan I had chosen for myself. God didn’t spell out His plan for me at that time; God simply called me to work and prepare my heart and soul for it and to trust that more direction would be given later. This preparation was necessary, for apart from Moses and maybe a few others, God’s plans for us are almost always invitations, which we can freely accept or deny; they are rarely ultimatums eliminating our free choice. As God knew, I had a lot of work to do if I was to accept His plan for me.
As a Catholic man, part of my reevaluation included realistically examining the possibility of entering the religious life and becoming a priest (it’s okay to STOP laughing now for those who know me best). In considering the religious life, the realities of lifetime obedience to the church, becoming a person of prayer, and both living a life of celibacy and the seemingly monotonous and routine life – at least from the outside and as a layperson –of the clerical and religious life, were important factors in quickly discerning that it was DEFINITELY not for me!!! As God’s call clarified itself, I found that it did include the married life for me.
I remember looking back after this process and happily proclaiming to all how ecstatic I was that the religious life was not for me!!! No lifetime of obedience to the church… No having to become a man of prayer… No life of celibacy (I was oblivious to chaste living at this time)… And no monotonous and routine religious life! In retrospect, I bet God was laughing hilariously at my conclusions, as I didn’t have a clue at what really lay ahead of me in pursuing a Catholic marriage and family life! Yes, I was blissfully ignorant about all that the married and family life entails – especially from a Catholic perspective – and yet I was joyously excited at being called to climb this Mount Everest, despite the multitude of less-than-perfect and even outright horrific marriages I witnessed growing up.
Now, looking back over 30 years later and with over 25 years married, I too am laughing hilariously at my conclusions regarding both the married life and the religious life! As an early twenty something-year-old, who can accurately know which vocational choice is truly the most difficult? Who can really know what their capacity is to develop the specific virtues and character that, by grace, is required to successfully live any vocation in accordance with God’s will?
Over 20 years of working in Catholic high schools and worshiping in Catholic parishes has blessed me with the graced acquaintances and friendships of many nuns and priests over the years. In this period, apart from a few stragglers and ne’er-do-well nuns/priests that one occasionally encounters, the overwhelming majority of the religious that I have met and come to know are not only happy about having accepted God’s call in this manner, but notwithstanding all the crazy realities in our church during the last three decades, they will still testify to this day that they would make the same decision again if given a second opportunity.
After 25 years of marriage, I’m unsure if I’d find this same majority in the testimony of those who chose marriage (whether still married or divorced) that I’ve met in this same period. One thing I can say in retrospect now, is that both vocations require the same things if we are to successfully live them out based on our Catholic faith.
Whether one is called to the single life LIKE JESUS (which is so often disparaged and misunderstood), the married life or the religious life – the requirements are basically the same in order to grow in holiness and fulfill God’s plan. What are these requirements?
Striving to live in obedience to the church’s teaching [Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, Jesus’ Laws of Love]. This struggle reveals our true selves and begins the process of transforming our hearts and very selves, by grace, into the persons God calls us to be. Obedience to God’s Law prepares us to successfully address the very real concerns of this life in a holy manner as it also orients and prepares us for eternal life in God’s Kingdom by creating a holy character in us.
Striving to become a person of prayer. Without a real and sustained prayer life, one simply can not truly come to know either oneself or God. Without the real work of developing a prayer life, our faith life and religiosity gets stuck at the level of servile and fearful obedience, never really progressing to experience or live from the very real grace of God’s love.
Striving to live a life of chastity and or celibacy. In disregarding, ignoring or only trying half ass to live out the faith’s core beliefs in the most intimate and fundamental areas of our lives – our sexuality… our economics… our friendships and vocational choices using our unique gifts and talents – one will often ultimately abandon the spiritual journey as meaningless. Why? Because without entering into this personal ethical struggle, many of the faith’s core truths will be misunderstood or not experienced at all (like the fact that God love you right now just because you are you, not because of what you think you are doing for God, etc.)… Furthermore, without entering into that common Christian experience of very real failure, it is difficult to really know and experience what believers talk about when testifying to being saved by Christ!
Striving to enter into, endure and progress during the monotonous routines of life! I suspect even the life of an emergency room physician can become routine, especially when the drudgeries of family life – like child rearing [OMG!!! … WOW!! Regarding the constant needs of these crumbsnatchers… And I thought priests had it bad!] – and our own unique set of marital struggles [“…Damn, this @#!$%& again?!?!”] recur again and again, albeit in new ways sometime, as the years pass. If this is not a long, slow carrying of the Cross to Calvary, then I am unsure what else other than Christ’s actual journey, comes close.
My, oh my… In retrospect, how very wrong I was about WHAT is really required of any vocation: the single, religious or marriage and family life! Thank God that Our Savior writes beautifully poetry from the often crazy, twisted and immature lines we write for ourselves!
Yes, God’s invitation invites and requires our free response to it. Thank God, that the Blessed Trinity will provide all the graces needed for whatever journey we are called to embark on.
If in this reading, you are at one of life’s various crossroads – I pray for the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you in your discernment as you go forward… However, please KNOW that the Cross awaits you however you respond to God’s invitation! In our unique Crosses, we are transformed, saved and set free! Yes, God will and can write straight from our crooked lines… Our prayer here at the Strugglin’Catholic.com is that by prayerfully entering into, accepting and being transformed by the various Crosses God has placed in your life, you too will begin to see and proclaim that unique and beautiful poem of love that God is writing through you in the Book of Life!