21 October 2014

Mutual Discernment and "Niggling Questions"

[[ Dear Sister, I appreciate your answer to my question about a Bishop desiring a person to seek profession even if they felt it was wrong for them. At the end you said something interesting about if your profession had been based in the Archbishop's desire or yours it actually would have raised questions for you but that questions were quieted or resolved at profession. You offered to say more about this and I would really like to ask you to do that. What questions would have been raised for you? What ones "melted away" with profession and consecration?]]

I am glad you asked the question; I hope the answer was helpful and that you looked under the labels mentioned to find the earlier post. For those who have not read the recent post, the passage you are referring to read:  Finally I don't think he did something he did not desire to do in this, but at the same time, I don't usually think in terms of what Archbishop Vigneron desired or did not desire. This is important because if my eremitical life is a matter of discernment then many niggling questions and problems melt away with profession and consecration. If it had merely been something my Bishop (and I!) desired, then it actually raises questions, creates difficulties, and certainly it would heighten the niggling questions that would have remained on the day of profession. Let me know if you want me to say more about this.

The questions that were based in desire rather than genuine discernment would include questions about whether or not I was really called to this, whether I was fooling myself and allowing ego to get in the way of the will of God (such an easy thing to do!), whether my gifts for things like theology, music, writing, teaching, etc were really going to be wasted here and wouldn't that be like burying my talents, whether my tendency to sometimes withdraw for negative reasons rather than for the challenge of prayer and God's summons to wholeness and holiness was the defining motive in all of this. It included questions like whether or not I could persevere in this life, whether the difficulties that would naturally occur were signs I had missed my vocation, whether one day I would need to ask to be dispensed as I sought my true vocation (that is, what God had really willed for me!), etc. For all of these questions and more to drop away one has to be certain that the Church and they themselves carried out a sound discernment process; one has to know that as far as everyone involved can tell (conclusions based in thought, prayer, conversations, recommendations, evaluations, etc), God is truly calling one to this. Personal preferences will not be sufficient in such a situation.

Further, my Bishop said during his homily that I would be exploring what it meant to be a hermit in the 21C. Exploration requires one break away from stereotypes and templates and be oneself in a given situation. Among other things it requires integrity and courage and a strong sense of confidence that you and God are in this together --- not something that is particularly likely if you have the sense you are in this vocation  not because of discernment but because of mere desire. When that desire is someone else's and your own heart is really not in this calling (or is actually "sickened" by it) chances are almost 100% that you will fail in this commission. In any case it is hard to believe the witness one gives to others in such circumstances will be suffused with a joy no one can miss or mistake! Today when I am asked or have the desire, for instance, to do some active ministry or consider taking on another spiritual direction client (something I presently do, but that I consider with care to be sure that I can accompany the person in the long term), to go back to school for another degree or some certification or updating that would be helpful in some way, take a teaching job, or even something which otherwise would be relatively trivial like choosing to just watch a little TV some evenings and wake a little later in the morning, it is important that I know why I am doing what I am doing and that at bottom this life of the silence of solitude is God's will not only for me but as a gift to the Church and world!

There is simply no way I could continue in this vocation if I was not certain in my heart of hearts that this was my call. It would be selfish and irresponsible to do so. This kind of relative certainty required the Church not only to say she believed this to be the case, but also to mediate this call to me in a public liturgical and juridical act. After all, there are many ways to pray, many ways to serve God and God's People, and we each have many talents and resources which would allow us to do that in numerous ways.  It is not merely that there may be easier ways but much more importantly, that God, in fact, might well will it for the sake of the Kingdom! In all of this personal desire or attraction are important but they are insufficient and require one engage in serious discernment with others who are also discerning the case.

While there is no way to be absolutely certain one has gotten this vocation stuff exactly right, one really has to listen to God and look carefully for the wisdom and fruitfulness of one's discernment (and one's life!) in all ways possible. In ecclesial vocations that means listening to the mutual discernment of Vicars, Bishops, Vocation directors and other superiors in one's life, as well as spiritual directors, psychologists, physicians, et. al., when these latter persons' input seems particularly pertinent. Otherwise one will be plagued by a sense that, with every difficulty or competing desire, one has substituted one's own ego for the will of God.