Thursday, October 27, 2011

Religious Life

When discerning a vocation the first step is to understand the beauty of each choice. If you look at either marriage or the religious life and see nothing attractive about it then there is something wrong with you. That is not an insult. That is information. We know that about marriage. If someone says there is nothing about marriage that is appealing you would wonder about them. Those that do say that mean they could not bring themselves to commit to one partner for the rest of their life. But most don't say that. Most people love the idea of falling in love and having it last forever. Having children. People might not be willing to make the sacrifices required to get there but they understand that it is a good place to be.

It is much less common with religious life. Many people react with complete aversion to the idea of becoming a nun or a priest. They see nothing at all appealing about it. That is honest. But they need to understand that shows a lack of spiritual maturity. It is not that they are not called to religious life. It is that they have not taken their faith seriously enough to even ask themselves the question. Do you believe God alone is enough to full satisfy all your desires for as long as you live? The theological answer to that is easy. Of course He is. He is God. But do you believe that in your heart? Is there something in the vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience that is just too much? That you cannot imagine God would satisfy that desire and bring you to a place of joy.

That is not a matter of calling. It is a matter of faith. When faith gets practical you find out how real it is. It is hard. It is something we need to grow into. But the exercise has benefits that go way beyond any potential religious vocation you might have. What happens is your desires are reordered as desires for God that might involve an intermediate goal. You might want a career. But why do you want a career? Is it so you can feel significant? Is it so you can earn money and do some good for yourself and for others? These are not bad things to want but why do you want them? You keep digging and you either get to God or you get to self. Ultimately those are the two real ends we pursue. The part that is ordered towards God can be sacrificed at God's command. The part that is ordered towards self needs to be repented of. We need to give ourselves fully and unconditionally to God.

If you go there then you can see marriage and religious life as two great goods. It will be sad that you can only do one. That is a good space to be in. Often someone will take a long time to surrender to the religious life and when he finally does God surprises him with a wife. I see something good about stories like that. Entering marriage in a place of total surrender to God. The point is not to make everyone religious. Most people should marry. But everyone needs to leave the choice up to God.

One of the big problems with marriage is many don't enter it in that place of surrender. There is a mentality of contraception and divorce in our culture that we can drift into all to easily. Often the reason why marriage appeals to us more than religious life is because we think we are required to give less in marriage. In some ways that is true but we should not marry out of an aversion to self-donation. If we are still in that space when we marry that is a very bad sign.

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