01 February 2013

On Specific Vocations as paradigms of Universal Calls

In the past three weeks I have been mainly writing about the secular nature of the vocation of the consecrated virgin living in the world. In part that took place on Phatmass, but partly it has occurred here and via email with CV's and CV candidates I know. This post, and the one immediately prior were the result of a conversation shared by email. I am grateful to the CV who allowed me to post her own sharing on some of this --- especially the difficulty of honoring the specialness of one's vocation without denigrating the vocations to union with God ALL others are called to.

[[Dear Sister Laurel, Much as I regret that you've been sick all this time, I'm grateful that you were unable to respond publicly to my question before now. The delay gave me a chance to grow into a space where I could see what you were saying in the post that gave rise to my concern and accept your position that everyone is called to spousal love as being completely true. Today's post is a fine exposition of this truth which my own heart has been intuitively reaching towards in the last several days.

And yes, my question was largely rooted in the need to feel "special", to feel that I had been called to a deeper intimacy with God than others. Even as I was writing the original email, I was asking myself if this might be the case. At the risk of repeating something that I've written to you more than once already, it can be extremely difficult to distinguish between making a claim to a "higher" vocation and claiming a vocation that is distinctive from that of someone else. When I'm thinking rationally, I no longer believe there is any vocation that is higher than any other. When my emotions get in the mix, however, it can be a different story!]]

Many thanks for your emails! You know I enjoy your own insights on your vocation as well sharing how we each grow in our respective paths. Sometimes the struggles we deal with are identical and that is certainly true in this case. I am often struck by how frequently those of us with vocations to the consecrated state substitute elitism for paradigmatic service in our attempts to do justice to the specialness of our vocations. Thomas Aquinas wrote carefully to esteem religious and priestly vocations and to do justice to their specialness without denigrating others. While I think he was mainly successful in this, he was also constrained by a (Greek) way of thinking which did not easily allow for paradox, and so was not as successful as he might have been. Those who followed him, far less brilliant than Aquinas, were also far less successful and bought into distortions of his thought and notions of a hierarchy of vocations which were all too worldly and reminiscent of the disciples' disedifying clamoring to be the ones sitting at Jesus' right hand, etc! For too long the Church validated what was really our own capitulation to temptation, pride, and egoism in these matters.

I think though that we must say that the spousal aspect IS a (or even the) key distinguishing mark of the CV vocation. It is also  the essence of its eschatological witness. I don't think we are dealing with two different things here. If, however, you mean that the spousal bond does not distinguish the CV by indicating a relationship few are called to ultimately (because ultimately all are called to it), then I do agree. Still, the truth is that very few persons are graced in the way a publicly consecrated virgin is graced to witness to and help others imagine or embrace what is a universal destiny and so, part of their own calls as well. 

Perhaps this distinction between call and destiny is an important and clarifying one. We are all meant and destined for spousal union with God. Few are called to witness to this in the way a CV is called to do. Few are graced in the precise way the Holy Spirit graces her to do this effectively and prophetically. Another way to draw this distinction is by speaking of Vocation with a capital V and vocation (or vocational paths) with a small v. We all share a single Vocation, namely a call to authentic humanity which is marked by and achieved in our union with God; however, there are many many vocational paths to that ultimate goal and each pathway illuminates a different aspect of a mystery that is incomprehensible and ineffable. The eschatological Vocation to this bond is not unique, but the graces together with the secular context of CV's living in the world which constitute her vocational path certainly are.

When we speak of ourselves as members of the Body of Christ we underscore this truth. All members are essential and interrelated. All witness to both the humanity and the divinity (and the continuous dialogue between these) which constitutes the living whole. There are specialized functions, of course, but all are meant to work in harmony with and serve the whole or they become something ugly, dysfunctional, and even crippling.  As a musician in an orchestra I know how impossible it is to randomly privilege one instrument over others --- even though they all shine in their own ways and are allowed to do so by composers. (Getting players who are used to playing "solo" instruments like my own to play as an ensemble is one of the hardest tasks conductors and section leaders --- or their musicians, for that matter, deal with.) Still, even competent soloists play WITH the orchestra (and the orchestra with the soloists)  in a way which allows the music to be produced and heard most clearly and effectively. In a well-composed and well-performed piece, no musician feels their parts are relatively unimportant to the composition or the ensemble as a whole. There is an essential humility involved in music (and in vocations) which allow one to honor the specialness of their instrument precisely as one creates a truly orchestral sound in which ALL are valued equally.

I suppose in some of the discussions I have heard or participated in on the nature of your own vocation I have heard a number of CV's say things like "I am a bride of Christ" in ways which make me think the sentence is meant to be completed, "and you are not." In one sense that complete statement would be true just as it would be true if I said, "I am called to be a hermit and you are not." But if it means, "I am called to a spousal bond with Christ and you are not" or "I am called to spousal love of God and you are not" then we have real problems just as we would have if I said, "I am called to the silence of solitude (the shalom, quies, or hesychia of true communion with God) and you are not." Certainly the way I experience, fulfill, and image this eschatological call and destiny in and for the Church differs from the way most folks will do it in their own lives but it doesn't change the fact that we are all ultimately called to it.

Again, thanks for sharing and allowing me to share your journey in this very public way.