Saturday, September 28, 2013

Vocation: from God and like Nothing else

With all the hype and psychological conditioning (brainwashing?) which goes on in the attempt to sell products and even praxis, I cannot say I was surprised to discover that Cross Fit Training can kill very healthy people. Needless to say, as age and arthritis have long spared me the attraction to any form of boot camp physical training, I cannot say I am disappointed to have to strike that one off my "bucket list". My point being this: ours has always been an essentially broken world, but perhaps even more so today we need to have recourse to the tried and true (no Cross Fit!). Among other things, I'd say we're missing out on fostering or nurturing, in exchange for, well, how does "promoting" sound? Take child-rearing today for example, that is, once you step out of the home-school environment. What do you too often find? Parents as promoters and coaches, you find parents anxious for the children to perform or achieve. And to what end? To be the best at something, I guess, or at least to be better than most. That is not necessarily nurturing.

The following quote from Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, got me thinking about how we've gotten ourselves "behind the 8 ball" by comparison with former times when it comes to our language concerning priestly and religious vocations. Today we talk about it being urgent to "promote" vocations. Why is that so, if a vocation is a call which comes to us from God? There is nothing wrong in and of itself with the notion of promoting, but if God calls, isn't it better up to me to identify children who are called, as the prophet says, called from mother's womb, and nurture that call? What's the difference, you ask? For starters, I think it fair to say our discourse has become somewhat institutionalized or professionalized and has lost its sublimity. Individual vocations promoters may be nurturing types, but it seems less likely today that children speaking about a vocation will be taken seriously. The "life experience" component is held high, with little worry about stifling a vocation. A positive inclination on the part of a child toward responding to God's call is subordinated to some this-worldly stuff.

"At one time the problem was closely associated with another one: is it possible to commit no more than a simple imperfection by resisting a religious vocation? The answer ordinarily given to this question is that though the religious vocation does not oblige under pain of sin, sin is always involved in rejecting it for the reason that religion is a way of life that embraces the whole of life, and the other ways of life, being less safe than it, are never chosen in preference to it except through some inordinate attachment to the things of this world, as is seen in the example of the rich man in the Gospel. Thus, the rejection of a vocation involves an inordinate attachment (which is forbidden by divine precept) and not only a lack of generosity." [Reverend Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P. (2013-03-22). The Mother of the Saviour: And Our Interior Life (Illustrated Classics) (p. 57). Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition.]

Common wisdom reminds us time and again that "best" and even "better" can very well be the enemy of the "good". It or they spoil the souffle` every single time. I have this theory that the last genuinely scrupulous person has long since died and that what we seek to combat and label as scrupulosity is rather that beautiful sensitivity and openness to the Divine Will which characterized an army of child and youth saints of another era. I guess I am speaking about the likes of Blessed Piergiorgio Frassati. I am wondering whether such a young man could find a confessor in the Church today, who wouldn't brand him as scrupulous and drive him and his search for Christ in the guise of poverty and service to the poor far from the confessional.

I say this because it helps me discount the debate of the last week in the press and blogosphere about how best to draw people to Christ, whether with the "carrot" or the "stick". I'm sure the Holy Father never intended it, but many people seem to reduce his calls for a double measure of humanity in our approach to our neighbor to lessons in proper body language and tone of voice in attempting to attract and tame brute animals. Promoting takes the upper hand, when what is really called for is a nurturing spirit. No doubt there was an old dogmatism which sought simply to keep a lid on or contain situations, often by resorting to denial, but somehow the capitulation to attempts at management of others somehow, somehow, seems a greater danger and more common occurrence today. We need only think about the way OF participation in the liturgy is regimented in many parishes, leaving little or no space per silent attentiveness to the great Mystery we are called to share. Folks in the pews have never been so under constraint as they are today.

This all indicates to me how profound the crisis in the life of the Church really is. Again the other day I had someone in an administrative role in the Church in the US express the opinion that with Safe Environment and all we have turned the corner on the abuse crisis and that next up will be money scandals a la Vatican Bank. It's a sad thought, but I'm more concerned that the Year of Faith is already coming to a close. We all set goals and promoted lots during this Year. I hope it bears or has born fruit. Do you notice where the language takes us? Toward promoting achievement: that is not necessarily a bad thing. One of the nice things about faith, about a sense of the presence of God in our lives, is that it doesn't loan itself as easily to "accomplishment speak". Even so, I'd love to know how many "lights" have been turned on this year to the love of God, how many small children find it easier at home to live in Christ's presence, how many more young people and children have been enabled to respond to God's call, how much more nurturing has gone on this year.

I've never found these kinds of processes or things other than perfectly natural and noble, as our Creator and Redeemer would have them for the sake of the life of humanity, the pinnacle of His creative and redemptive plan, in total freedom for the sake of His great love. Discerning God's Will, sorting things out in life, doesn't demand gurus or breathing techniques. We don't need to have taken off a year to trek around the world somewhere, unwashed, in order to get in touch with something that is not close at hand. Our world just plain needs more old Eli's to tell young Samuel's to just say "Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening!" It is just that simple and natural and I appeal to the authority of G.K. Chesterton, well, as an approved author.

"The true key of Christian mysticism is not so much self-surrender, which is a painful and complex thing, as self-forgetfulness, which we all fall into in the presence of a splendid sunrise or a little child, and which is to our highest nature as natural as singing to a bird." [Chesterton, G.K. (2011-10-20). In Defense of Sanity (p. 81). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.]

Year of Faith? Nurturing in the context of a tried and true tradition? Sorry, but it all seems so simple.

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