08 February 2013

Posts on Vocations: Political Correctness or the Way of the Kingdom of God?

[[Dear Sister Laurel, what you write about [vocational] equality and so forth sounds very pleasing and politically correct, but it conflicts with what the Scriptures say. Matthew 22:14 says that many are called, but few are chosen. Many are called to lay life, but few are chosen to  be Brides of Christ.  Every Christian is called to Baptism but very few are chosen for religious life or the priesthood. I'm sorry but what you write says to me that maybe you don't even appreciate enough the gift of your own call to religious life. Plus you are a hermit! How rare is that??? God has chosen you to be his Bride. You are like the beloved disciple!! How often do you thank God for such a special vocation?]]

First, thanks for your comments. I suspect a number of people who read my recent posts may have felt the same way about them. We are truly "wedded" to the notion that God calls people and then, out of that number, chooses a few to be his elect --- as though the meanings of being called or elected means for God or for Christians (or for Matthew in the passage you cited) what it means in the world at large --- namely, that if I am chosen, then someone else must be left "unchosen", if I am special, then someone else must be ordinary, etc. Add to this the notion that too often the Church's theology has not done justice to ALL vocations while stressing the specialness of a few and it is no wonder we tend to be unable to see the specialness of one vocation without denigrating others. In other words we tend to see with the eyes, heart, and mind of the world rather than those of the Kingdom. In my recent posts I have tried to present a different way of seeing, a paradoxical, Kingdom way of seeing that does justice to the specialness of every vocation and affirms their common source, meaning, and goal.

One source of real difficulty is using sayings like the one you cited from Matthew out of their historical and cultural context as a bit of "bumper sticker theology" and thus accepting our ordinary world of competition, elitism, individualism, etc as the normal context driving our interpretation. When we do this we read this line as though it says God calls everyone to ordinary life and then somehow, he sorts folks out and, based on some obscure calculus (better scores on some secret Sanctity Aptitude Test) and the notion that God loves them better because of this, decides that some are called to something "more", some to greater intimacy, some to more radical discipleship, etc. while the rest are simply consigned to second class vocations (and thus, one can only presume, the "cheap seats" in heaven)! But Matthew's use of being called and being among the chosen (the elect) in the parable of the wedding guest does NOT support such a view.

Remember the way the parable goes (Matthew 22:1-14): a king invites people to his Son's wedding banquet and all of those who are invited first have more important things to do. They decline the invitation and some of them actually seize and kill the slaves bearing the invitations. (In other words they are called but will not be among the elect or chosen because they refuse to be.) The King punishes the guilty and then sends his servants out to invite everyone they find to the wedding banquet. The wedding hall is thus filled with guests. In the third act of the parable though the King notices that a guest is present without a proper wedding robe and confronts him. The man is speechless (always a sign of disobedience, lack of faith, and ingratitude in the NT) and the King is upset.  He has the man thrown out into the "outer darkness" and concludes the story with the statement, "For many [meaning the all composed of multitudes] are called, but few are chosen."

For the purposes of this post we especially need to see clearly that the distinction between called and chosen is one of response. ALL are called, not all respond as is appropriate. Some put the wedding banquet lower on their list of priorities than it deserves. Some respond with violence and kill the messengers. Some receive the invitations, prepare themselves appropriately to honor and thank the King and his Son, and enter the banquet properly attired. And one guest receives the invitation but does not honor the occasion, the King, or his Son properly; he simply comes improperly attired, and ultimately he is thrown out into the outer darkness.

To be chosen in this parable is not about God calling some to a more radical discipleship than others; it is not about being called to a more intimate relationship with God; it is about accepting the invitation God has extended and thus living in a consistent, thoroughgoing way a life which IS an appropriate (i.e., a grateful) response to such a wonderful invitation. It is about living in a way which does not shame the King or his Son but instead delights them and becomes a source of real joy for them and inspiration for others. (Recall that Matthew was dealing with a community in which Christians had fallen away from their faith in the face of persecution, and yet had returned to the community and were very much like the guest without the proper attire. Their behavior was inappropriate and ungrateful; it dishonored the King and his Son, and the Church struggled with what to do with these Christians whose lives had been so disedifying.)  [Addendum  2/11/2013 :  Please note, I just read today that Richard Rohr in Immortal Diamond, The Search for our True Self offers the following translation of Matt 22:14, "I am calling all of you,  but very few of you allow yourselves to be chosen"!  I could not agree more with the sense it conveys so well!]

As I have said here many times, Vatican II asserted clearly that ALL are called to an exhaustive holiness, and all-consuming union with God. The chosen, the elect, are those who accept this call and live their entire lives as a wholehearted response to it. What is meant to be radical here (meaning at the root where radix equals root) is one's following of Christ WITHIN this specific vocation. With regard to the recent discussion on consecrated virginity of women living in the world this means not only living out one's consecration, but doing so in a secular life which wholly honors the Incarnation and the Sacramental character of all of creation. Turning a secular life into a Religious or quasi religious one could actually be ungrateful --- a way of refusing to live their discipleship radically or coming to the banquet clothed as truly honors the King and his Son.

Similarly, for a person called to marriage, embracing celibacy is not a more radical form of discipleship, but a less radical form. Instead they are called to live out the gift, challenge, and sacredness of sexual or married love in a way which images Christ's exhaustive love for each and all of us. For parents Religious poverty would not be a more radical form of discipleship, but a less radical one. Instead they are called to live the evangelical counsel of poverty in ways which allow them to raise children (a constantly sacrificial way of living), do business justly in the secular world (also sacrificial),  and contribute in a multitude of ways to a world where everyone has what they need and the Kingdom of God is made real. In these ways and others married persons live a radical discipleship.

When I consider the sacrifices married couples and parents make on a daily basis I am personally struck by just how radical a call to follow Christ this is. The degree of sacrifice seems to me to be much greater than anything Christ asks for from me. Each vocation has tremendous sacrifices and rewards of course; in each one to the degree we accept the invitation of intimacy with Christ we experience being truly chosen. Still, I honestly cannot say that the vows I have made call for a greater sacrifice, much less greater holiness than two people giving their lives for their families, children, and God. In fact, in many ways I think that God has asked me for far less --- though this too is a worldly way of thinking and I try to resist it. The truth is God asks for everything from us in WHATEVER vocation he calls us to. If what one lives is a less-than-radical discipleship it is because they refuse to live as God's chosen ones in whatever state of life they are called to.

Does this mean I don't esteem the vocation God has called me to? Just the opposite I think. I do not honor or delight God when I treat other vocations as less radical, less significant, a less exhaustive call to holiness or intimacy with God. How does it honor God to make him into a completely worldly character who parcels out his love, indeed, his very self, a little to this person, more to another, a lot to a third, etc? I don't believe it does. I believe it substitutes worldly values for those of God's Kingdom. The hierarchy in the Church is a hierarchy of service, not of value or the specialness of vocation. Beyond this, it is NOT the way the Kingdom will be structured; the Kingdom is anti-hierarchical and wholly egalitarian.

Yes, indeed I am "the" beloved disciple --- no less and no more than the person in the Gospel of John. At least I am called to live out and to live out of this truth; thus, if there is a difference between us it is in our responses to God's invitation. Notice in the Scriptures that disciple is never named; s/he is marked out by his/her faithfulness to Christ. This allows and even summons us to imagine ourselves in this position. Likewise we are called to see that this is equally true of the person sitting behind the "I need food" sign on the sidewalk outside the local grocery store or stumbling drunk in the alley behind it. After all this is God's truth!! The Scriptures invite us to this; to become the elect of God we "simply" have to accept the truth of it and live in light of that truth. I thank God almost every day for this special vocation, but I also thank God almost every day for the specialness of every other vocation just as I pray that we can each realize how truly special the call we have been given. (With regard to this last prayer I also pray that the Church will do a better job of portraying the amazing paradox involved: each vocation is unique and very special and each vocation is of the same value in God's eyes as every other.) I am convinced that what I have been writing here about vocations is not a matter of political correctness. No, quite the contrary; it is instead the way of the Kingdom of God and, for that reason, radically countercultural.