Modern “vocations” murder the spirit

January 24, 2015 § 52 Comments

A fairly typical comment in casual conversation:

“He was considering becoming a priest, but chose to pursue a career in medicine instead.”

The vocational alternatives to vowed religious life are not careers.

The vocational alternatives to vowed religious life are family life and bachelorhood/spinsterhood.

There is nothing wrong with these latter vocations: they really are the right place for those who are called to them.

And there is of course nothing intrinsically wrong with pursuing a career, just as there is nothing intrinsically wrong with building a house or working a farm.

But by overwriting the conceptual place reserved for vocations with careers, modernity takes one more step forward in its project of murdering the spirit.

§ 52 Responses to Modern “vocations” murder the spirit

  • Kidd Cudi says:

    But priesthood is also a career, so if the speaker was not talking about vocation but instead just talking about career, the comment is valid.

    Not that I disagree with your point, I just like poking at things.

  • donalgraeme says:

    Well said.How easily we confuse an earthly calling with a divine one.

  • John K. says:

    Zippy, I’d like to know how you understand a “calling” to bachelorhood or spinsterhood. I’m of the opinion that there’s no such thing – that man his either obliged to fulfill his natural end in family life or to sacrifice it in the name of a higher, divine end through religious or ordained life. Accepting bachelorhood/spinsterhood as a valid way of life seems to say that it’s fine to just reject the natural end of family life.

  • Patrick says:

    Monks that aren’t priests are bachelors.

  • Zippy says:

    St Martin de Porres and St Rose of Lima came immediately to mind. Furthermore, when it comes to marriage I think the idea that there is someone for everyone is a dangerous myth, and not all of the folks who cannot find a suitable spouse are called to consecrated religious life. That’s what common sense tells me at any rate, though I’m not dogmatic about it.

  • Furthermore, when it comes to marriage I think the idea that there is someone for everyone is a dangerous myth, and not all of the folks who cannot find a suitable spouse are called to consecrated religious life.

    I have been saying this for several months now with *strong* opposition from those who would otherwise agree with me.

    It’s amazing how hostile people get when I point out to the people lamenting how difficult it is to find a good spouse that, perhaps, they shouldn’t get married.

    To put it another.way, if I lay it out like this:

    1) It is very hard for people to find a good spouse

    2) You, the person I am addressing, is finding it extremely difficult to find a good spouse, despite receiving excellent advice from several people on the matter

    … The most obvious conclusion to draw from numbers 1 and 2 is not only never considered, it is rejected with vehemence and something not unlike fear. People fear bachelor/spinsterhood.

  • Well, if you are sexed, it is a fearful prospect. Those who have a low/no sex drive are not as afraid, and where they are, it’s clearly because of living in a hypersexual culture where not being sexually available constantly is seen as bad or unenlightened.

  • Zippy says:

    malcolmthecynic:

    People fear bachelor/spinsterhood.

    That strikes me as rather like the fear of being left behind when everyone else goes off to war. If people really understood vocations they would find them all fearful.

  • That strikes me as rather like the fear of being left behind when everyone else goes off to war. If people really understood vocations they would find them all fearful.

    In the beginning, God said that it was not good for Adam to be alone. I don’t think the ideal state is for us to be unmarried. I think Paul only wished all men were as he was (single, chaste) because we live in a fallen world. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t still long for the ideal state, no matter how difficult marriage may be here in the shadow world.

    If marriage is like going to war, well at least you’ve got a fighting partner. And staying home doesn’t mean you’re not going to have to fight anyway.

    My point isn’t that we should tell everyone to get married but rather that we need to have a little sympathy for the sorrow of those who wish to marry but can’t find a spouse.

  • Zippy (or any other Catholic here), can you clarify a technical point for me? I googled “marriage as a vocation” and found a lot of Church info indicating that marriage is considered a vocation/calling from God for Catholics. I thought this quote was interesting:

    The Most Reverend Boyea, Bishop of Lansing, Michigan states in Faithmag.com: “We have a vocation crisis in America. This is not what you think. It is a vocation crisis in marriage. Many are no longer getting married – and too many do not see their marriage as a sacrament, a means of grace for themselves and their families. Yet marriage and family are the natural heart of our society and the spiritual core of our church.”

    But when I looked into single life as a vocation, what I find indicates that singleness is not itself a vocation in the Catholic church. For example, from this site (http://institute.catholicmatch.com/2014/01/is-single-life-a-vocation/):

    The unconsecrated single life is not a vocation, as the Catholic Church formally defines it […]

    By “Capital V” vocation, I am referring to the Church’s formal definition. It is best understood in light of the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, paragraph 24, which says that “Man, being the only creature created for his own sake, finds himself only in a sincere gift of himself.” In other words, we were created to find fulfillment through giving ourselves to another. Giving, not loaning. Permanent self-donation. And that is done, permanently, in two primary ways. The first and most basic way is in giving ourselves to another person in marriage. Blessed John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body, discusses how the very complementarity of the male and female body shows that men and women were created to give themselves to each other. So that makes marriage the “fundamental” way that men and women give themselves to each other.

    The second (and more recent) way is through some sort of consecration to God. Priests, religious brothers and sisters, and lay consecrated persons all take a vow to give their lives exclusively to God. They specifically renounce marriage, not because it is bad, but because they have “married” God, consecrated their lives to Him in such a complete way that they are no longer free to give themselves to another human person.

    So when John K up above wrote this:

    Zippy, I’d like to know how you understand a “calling” to bachelorhood or spinsterhood. I’m of the opinion that there’s no such thing – that man his either obliged to fulfill his natural end in family life or to sacrifice it in the name of a higher, divine end through religious or ordained life. Accepting bachelorhood/spinsterhood as a valid way of life seems to say that it’s fine to just reject the natural end of family life.

    is he not correct?

  • I think a comment I just tried to make got eaten by the spam filter. 🙂

    [Retrieved it. – Z]

  • John K. says:

    St Martin de Porres and St Rose of Lima came immediately to mind.

    St Martin *had* intended to become a priest, and St Rose, a nun, but both had been forbidden by external circumstances from doing so. Because of the lack of a formal vow renouncing their ends in family life for the sake of being able to greater devote themselves to God, I’m inclined to think that these particular circumstances are not quite the ideal.

    I’m not so sure we agree on the exact way that “there’s someone for everyone” is pernicious. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be of the opinion that sometimes people simply cannot find a good match, and should thus would be better off simply not marrying. But while I agree that certain pairs of people would be better matches and would be better able to manage the tribulations of married life with each other, I think you underestimate the viability of less-than-ideal matches. It was the case that most people for the vast majority of human history married; it can’t possibly be the case that all of them were married to thoroughly faithful and devoted spouses. The danger to me in that statement seems to be in causing people to assume that whoever they ended up with is a good match for them.

    And I’m suspicious of talk of a specific calling to the priesthood or consecrated life as being a necessary condition for someone to pursue either. Its relation to the consecrated or ordained life seems to me to be the same as that of falling in love to married life. I highly doubt that all or even most of priests, monks and nuns in the history of the Church had felt a special calling to those ways of lives. Notably, I’ve only ever heard people talking about a special calling to the priesthood or consecrated life in the modern context, which leads me to suspect that the idea that it’s necessary to pursue these vocations is a modern invention, not unlike the idea that one needs to feel “in love” in order to marry (and the darker consequence of this idea – that divorce is justified when one or both of the parties no longer feel “in love”).

    I would actually quite like for a vocation to bachelorhood to be real, due to…particular personal circumstances, and additionally due to the gravely unfortunate fact that being a member of a religious order would result in one’s writings and such being under closer scrutiny, which, in an era of increasing liberalisation of the Church, would likely not end well for reactionaries. But I do not see how such the existence of such a vocation can be justified.

  • My point isn’t that we should tell everyone to get married but rather that we need to have a little sympathy for the sorrow of those who wish to marry but can’t find a spouse.

    Well, naturally. I doubt anybody here would deny that.

    As for clarifying your points SM, I don’t have anything to say. Those are fairly clear: There’s no call to the single, non-religious life. Guess I was wrong.

  • Zippy says:

    The only authoritative point in Sunshine’s citation is the brief cite of Gaudium et Spes, which does not contradict that single life can be a spiritual calling unless it is assumed that single people are intrinsically incapable of gift of self. (Personally I find that insulting to single people, whom I have seen act with at times heroic selflessness).

    It is simple to demonstrate rationally, with only one empirical dependency, that some people are called to the single life.

    Positive obligations to act are always matters of prudence (I can cite Veritatis Splendour if necessary). Therefore one can only be obligated to marry or take religious vows if doing so is a wise and prudent choice under the circumstances for the particular person.

    So either (this is the empirical dependency) everyone is always presented with opportunities in fact in which marrying or taking religious vows is wise and prudent, or there exist some cases where a person is called to the single life.

    That leaves plenty of room for dispute over how common this is the case, of course. But the notion that everyone is always called to either marriage or vowed religious life is not empirically tenable, in my view. Once we’ve admitted the exception we’ve agreed what we are and are just haggling over the price.

    The “no vocations to the single life” conclusion rests on a pernicious “someone (or some vow) for everyone” myth: a myth which encourages imprudent and unwise decision making.

  • Ita Scripta Est says:

    Sunshine Thiry:

    I think this portion of the quote passage does in fact uphold the single life as a vocation:

    and lay consecrated persons

    But I take issue with the passage you quoted anyway. JPII’s Theology of Body has very little basis in Catholic teaching. For Catholics, the celibate life is the most ideal life. Especially in America, Christianity exalts marriage well beyond its proper place. I tend to think that a lot of cultural maladies (like same-sex marriage) are the logical result of our culture’s inordinate regard for the married state.

  • I dunno, part of that regard for the married state is the power it used to hold. Married households used to provide so much support for people who can now sustain their own solitary households. Married households used to have both status and power, even at lower-class levels. Widow’s wealth props up a lot of dysfunctional subcultures in America, after all.

  • Mike T says:

    ISE,

    Celibacy is not the natural filler of the vacuum left by the retreat of marriage in society’s estimation. Fornication and single mother-dominated households are instead. You have two choices at the societal level. You either exalt and privilege marriage or you accept a society with staggering levels of out of wedlock children. Celibacy may be an ideal for people like you, but it has never been implemented on a meaningful level in any Christian society because in the aggregate, it’s unnatural.j

  • I wouldn’t go so far as to say vocations to the non-consecrated single life are nonexistent. I’ve known people with that calling and came away impressed with their holiness and with them personally.

    But I do think it’s comparatively rare and should only be considered in close cooperation with a competent spiritual director. Vowed religious life is objectively a much safer and more secure way to reach heaven than remaining in the world. St. Thomas thought that, if anything, hardcore sinners need to enter religious life even more so than people who are already holy. Religious life is the means to perfection, not the end.

  • Marissa says:

    Celibacy is not unnatural; it’s supernatural.

    You have two choices at the societal level. You either exalt and privilege marriage or you accept a society with staggering levels of out of wedlock children.

    Indeed, marriage should be privileged by outlawing and punishing contraception, divorce and adultery.

  • Silly Interloper says:

    Whether or not a celibate single is rare or not is irrelevant because it pertains to an individual, not to a multitude. There are probably as many good reasons a person remains single as there are single people, so pretending you can categorize them like some species of animal for broad-stroke judgements like this just shows a complete lack of imagination.

  • Zippy says:

    I agree with Silly’s lack of imagination point, and I’ll go a step further: the modern world could really benefit from a larger population of single people committed to chastity. Vowed religious are set apart, inherently viewed as non-paradigmatic. The celibate priesthood stands in contradiction to the world’s view of sex, but not in quite the undistilled manner of ordinary, chaste singles.

  • Mike T says:

    Indeed, marriage should be privileged by outlawing and punishing contraception, divorce and adultery.

    Here’s a fun little litmus test… Ask her if she’d even consider a medically unnecessary caesarian section to avoid the pain of natural child birth. If she gives you any reason to believe she would, immediately dump her and move on. Minimum six month of hard celibacy if you’re a Catholic, ideally two years of celibacy because of the damage it does. By the third child, you’re looking at being forced into celibacy to protect her health until she’s menopausal.

    This is why if I were Catholic and single, I’d probably not marry at all. If I’m going to be forced into foreseeable involuntary celibacy not due to a medical emergency or something like that, I’d rather just have all of my time to myself.

  • jf12 says:

    The calling to be cat-herders seems to be growing. 46% of young Japanese women are not interested in anything at all to do with sex; no sex, no relationships, nada, zip, by choice. 35% of British women.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/11362306/Why-dont-Japanese-men-like-having-sex.html

  • @ Zippy
    My question wasn’t “Does single life make sense spiritually” but rather is this a “vocation” in the Catholic doctrine? I don’t need any particular convincing about whether someone can be single but unconsecrated to God. But in my googling of this, I cannot find any place where a vocation of single-but-unconsecrated is listed. So I was just curious about that because in your post I understood you to be saying that in Catholicism there are three vocations – the priesthood (or nuns), marriage, and unconsecrated singlehood. All I see is singlehood as a consecrated vocation (I tried looking on the U.S. Conf. of Bishops page for info: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/vocations/consecrated-life/forms-of-consecrated-life.cfm, which lists singlehood (chaste, of course) as a vocation when consecrated to God.

    @ ISE

    Christianity exalts marriage well beyond its proper place

    Does it? I tend to think our modern practice of Christianity has turned marriage into something other than what God seems to have intended it to be, but I’m not sure we exalt it beyond its proper place. In the very beginning, did God not decide that Adam should be married and that it was not good for him to be alone? Does Psalm 68:6 not praise God because “He sets the lonely in families”? And does Malachi 2:15 not say:

    But did He not make them one,
    Having a remnant of the Spirit?
    And why one?
    He seeks godly offspring.

    It seems to me that God values/exalts marriage very, very highly and we treat it like trash.

    The remedy for that isn’t for everyone to throw in the towel and decide to remain a bunch of grumpy virgins while creating unconsecrated-singleness-vocational doctrine out of thin air. The remedy for that is for Chistendom to repent of trashing marriage and return to Biblical marriage.

    @ Mike T

    This is why if I were Catholic and single, I’d probably not marry at all. If I’m going to be forced into foreseeable involuntary celibacy not due to a medical emergency or something like that, I’d rather just have all of my time to myself.

    Respectfully, I would submit that you do not understand the purpose of Christian marriage then. The purpose of Christian marriage isn’t simply so that you can get laid; rather, the purpose is family-formation. The Bible directly states that God desires Godly offspring and this is why He made [husbands and wives) one (Malachi 2:15). Some people seem not to be called to family-formation and we are debating in this thread about whether or not one can be called to remain single but have no specific call to be fully dedicated to serving God. But I don’t think we are debating whether or not some people might be called to remain single because they’ve decided there’s not enough sex to be had in a marriage so it’s just not worth the bother.

  • Mike T says:

    Respectfully, I would submit that you do not understand the purpose of Christian marriage then. The purpose of Christian marriage isn’t simply so that you can get laid; rather, the purpose is family-formation.

    Respectfully, I get that. The point I made was there is a very common tendency among American women to take moves that, if you’re a Catholic man, will lead to celibacy that not even God intended for you under natural law (according to Catholicism). Taking the easy way out and then leaving you with 10-15 years of celibacy if you want to play it straight is a bum deal.

  • Indeed, marriage should be privileged by outlawing and punishing contraception, divorce and adultery.

    I agree. That would be exalting marriage to its proper place. What we’ve really elevated beyond its proper place is lust and lust’s little sister, “romance”. That’s why Christians are busy Jenny-Eriksoning their ho-hum marriages. That’s also why I like the Catholic idea of marriage as a “vocation” rather than a thrill-ride.

  • Zippy says:

    Sunshine:
    I am not aware of the Magisterium ever taking up the question. My guess (without having done any due diligence) is that outside of the hypersexualized context of modernity, with its concomitant exaggeration of feminine power, it isn’t something which would ever come up as an issue.

  • Zippy says:

    Folks who do not know what the word “celibacy” means are probably not in a position to make authoritative proclamations on Catholic doctrine.

  • catholicecon says:

    Historically speaking, the Catholic Church reserved the word “vocation” to refer specifically to the priesthood or religious life. The use of “vocation” to describe married or single life is largely a post-Vatican II novelty (due in large part to Gaudium et Spes, I suspect). Prior to the council, both marriage and being single would have been deemed “states in life”.

    In fact I would suggest that the error Zippy highlights in his post (i.e. conflating vocation and career) has its roots here. In their zeal to introduce the protestantized notion of the “priesthood of all believers” into the Holy Church, the architects of the council allowed the word vocation to be commandeered as a means of exalting the congregation while simultaneously de-emphasizing the priesthood. What precisely is the difference between “Joe Q. Pewsitter” and a priest if we all believe that we were “called” by God to do what we want to do?

    Thus, given the first misappropriation of the term and modern man’s increasingly insular perspective, it seems very unsurprising that the meaning of “vocation” and “career” are beginning to converge in many folks’ minds.

  • Ita Scripta Est says:

    Celibacy may be an ideal for people like you, but it has never been implemented on a meaningful level in any Christian society because in the aggregate, it’s unnatural.j

    Why are you always so a historical? Celibacy was the ideal of Christendom until the Protestant Revolt.

    Does it? I tend to think our modern practice of Christianity has turned marriage into something other than what God seems to have intended it to be, but I’m not sure we exalt it beyond its proper place. In the very beginning, did God not decide that Adam should be married and that it was not good for him to be alone? Does Psalm 68:6 not praise God because “He sets the lonely in families”? And does Malachi 2:15 not say:

    Yes but those passages need to be read in the context of the New Testament. While celibacy is obviously not mandated for all, it is better to be a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

    I realize it is paradoxical, but I tend to think that a Christianity that unambiguously established the clerical and single consecrated lives as an ideal would see an improvement among families. For one celibates can contribute to the common good in ways that most marrieds simply cannot.

    As I said above, the warped notions that come out of heretical American Christianity leave it utterly incapable of addressing the problems of the day. To flog a favorite target of mine, I find one of the most problematic manifestations of this mentality in Mormonism, which some of you may know sees marriage as an institution that continues(or can continue) on into the afterlife. There are many (non-Mormons) who tout this as an ideal we all need to learn from. I think this is a serious error, as it plays right into the dichotomy of modernity. I think most fair minded people can see how such a view is the blatant idolization of marriage. The other part of my critique is mainly a question of tactics. One is never going to out do moderns on appeals to the sentimental. Mormons and Evangelicals might make really inspiring videos on the beauty and joy of married life, but you are simply never going to outdo feminists and homosexuals in a PR campaign.

    Traditional Christianity’s emphasis on detachment is only viable way forward, and it is the only option that hasn’t been really tried.We tend to forget that part our Faith entails a world where “Father will be divided against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law” We Catholics accord special honor to virgin martyrs as a high ideal. In the Canon of the Mass we remember Sts. Perpetua & Felicity. As anyone who has read their story would note, it is hard to find a endorsement of contemporary conservative “family values” in their story.

  • Mike T, you have no idea what you’re talking about regarding c-sections being less painful or easier or even medically unnecessary. It’s a statistical chimera, the too posh to push woman.

    As for the main topic, I’m Protestant and would be ok with a world where only 40% of adults married, but the rest were given to celibate singlehood overwhelmingly. There’s been some attempts to have Protestant nuns and possibly monks, apparently.

  • Zippy says:

    It may be worth citing Familiaris Consortio at length. Special attention should be paid to the last paragraph:

    16. Virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God not only does not contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes it and confirms it. Marriage and virginity or celibacy are two ways of expressing and living the one mystery of the covenant of God with His people. When marriage is not esteemed, neither can consecrated virginity or celibacy exist; when human sexuality is not regarded as a great value given by the Creator, the renunciation of it for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven loses its meaning.

    Rightly indeed does St. John Chrysostom say: “Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be particularly good. It is something better than what is admitted to be good that is the most excellent good.”(38)

    In virginity or celibacy, the human being is awaiting, also in a bodily way, the eschatological marriage of Christ with the Church, giving himself or herself completely to the Church in the hope that Christ may give Himself to the Church in the full truth of eternal life. The celibate person thus anticipates in his or her flesh the new world of the future resurrection.(39)

    By virtue of this witness, virginity or celibacy keeps alive in the Church a consciousness of the mystery of marriage and defends it from any reduction and impoverishment.

    Virginity or celibacy, by liberating the human heart in a unique way,(40) “so as to make it burn with greater love for God and all humanity,”(41) bears witness that the Kingdom of God and His justice is that pearl of great price which is preferred to every other value no matter how great, and hence must be sought as the only definitive value. It is for this reason that the Church, throughout her history, has always defended the superiority of this charism to that of marriage, by reason of the wholly singular link which it has with the Kingdom of God.(42)

    In spite of having renounced physical fecundity, the celibate person becomes spiritually fruitful, the father and mother of many, cooperating in the realization of the family according to God’s plan.

    Christian couples therefore have the right to expect from celibate persons a good example and a witness of fidelity to their vocation until death. Just as fidelity at times becomes difficult for married people and requires sacrifice, mortification and self-denial, the same can happen to celibate persons, and their fidelity, even in the trials that may occur, should strengthen the fidelity of married couples.(43)

    These reflections on virginity or celibacy can enlighten and help those who, for reasons independent of their own will, have been unable to marry and have then accepted their situation in a spirit of service.

  • Mike T says:

    Mike T, you have no idea what you’re talking about regarding c-sections being less painful or easier or even medically unnecessary. It’s a statistical chimera, the too posh to push woman.

    I never said that they’re intrinsically unnecessary. I was referring to the fact that America has a much higher incident of them than the industrial world. Now either we Americans are headed down the path of the bulldog or there’s something wrong with our medical establishment and/or culture.

    But back to the topic at hand, I see no reason why people really need to apologize for choosing to remain single. There are many valid reasons to not marry, including looking at the balance of advantages vs disadvantages today and saying they don’t stack up.

  • Mike T says:

    This topic reminds me of some of the things Dalrock has posted about Mark Driscoll’s attempts to shame single men into marrying unwed mothers with varying degrees of baggage. Many of the men pastors like him try to shame are quite content to remain single until they meet a woman who more or less “did it right” (and that includes a single mom who is a widow, not a divorcee). I suspect many men, on balance, would rather spend their lives working to make a comfortable life, play some video games/watch sports, have a beer at happy hour and do some community or ministerial service on the weekend rather than jump into the practical reality of marriage for many men today. Probably best thing to say in many churches is that it’s ok to be single, especially if everyone is pushing you to make a foolish move out of piety.

  • Thank you, Zippy, for the clarifying passage. Also, Catholic econ – very helpful comments.

    @ Mike T

    I never said that they’re intrinsically unnecessary. I was referring to the fact that America has a much higher incident of them than the industrial world. Now either we Americans are headed down the path of the bulldog or there’s something wrong with our medical establishment and/or culture.

    Without getting into the good and bad aspects of c-sections, let’s at least correct this factual error. The U.S. has just average c-section rates when compared with other industrialized nations:

    From the World Health Organization’s 2010 data, here are the rates (http://www.who.int/healthsystems/topics/financing/healthreport/30C-sectioncosts.pdf):

    China 25.9, Brazil 45.9, United States 30.3, Mexico 37.8, Iran 41.9,
    Egypt 27.6, Argentina 35.2, Italy 38.2, Colombia 26.7, Korea 37.7, Germany 27.8, Turkey 21.2, South Africa 20.6, Venezuela 25.1, Dominican Republic 41.9, Peru 24.1, Spain 25.9, United Kingdom 22.0, Russian Federation 18.0, Ecuador 29.8, Australia 30.3, Canada 26.3, Chile 30.7, France 18.8, Paraguay 32.2, Japan 17.4, Cuba 35.6, Thailand 17.4, Portugal 34.0, Romania 23.6, Hungary 28.0, El Salvador 25.0, Switzerland 28.9, Bolivia 18.6, Austria 27.1, Bulgaria 26.8, Uruguay 31.8, Nicaragua 20.6.

    They also list the percentage of c-sections that were medically unnecessary in their data – for the U.S. about 10% of c-sections are deemed medically unnecessary by the WHO. I didn’t read careful about their methodology, so I don’t know how they determined that, though.

  • Marissa says:

    To echo what Catholic Economist said, I learned in my catechism class last week that the priesthood and religious life were vocations, not marriage or anything else.

  • outis says:

    Zippy,

    Thanks so much for quoting the passage from Familiaris consortio, which I ought to read. For years, I have been worrying about whether unconsecrated virginity is a vocation. Once someone cited Adrienne von Speyr (via Hans Urs von Balthasar) to me on this subject. Though I have never been able to find the passage, she apparently said that “there is no third way”: only marriage and consecrated religious life are true vocations. Which makes sense, since unconsecrated virgins or celibates have not made any sort of permanent commitment or gift of self. But that sort of thing would require ecclesial recognition, from a bishop, I should think. And he would require me to be in good health (I am not) and have a spiritual director.

    Any priest with faculties can hear my confession, but it is far from easy to find a good spiritual director — someone I could trust enough to obey without anxiety. So many priests are either unintelligent or heterodox (or both), and something more than intelligence and orthodoxy is needed: wisdom, and a charism of discernment. (Also, time to spare for a person who does not belong to anyone.)

    So I feel more than a bit lost.

  • Zippy says:

    Outis:
    I don’t want to denigrate spiritual direction for those who benefit from it (whether by being one or by having one). But it is possible that it is overrated in many cases. Most people have things right in front of them that they ought to attend to, and (to continue to paint with too broad a brush) ‘seeking’ behavior is quite frankly often a matter of escapism.

    Also when it comes to ‘permanent commitment or gift of self’ there may be less there than meets the eye. About fifteen years ago a thirty-something diocesan priest confessed to a group of us that he felt that he might be called to a monastery, but that he was very reluctant to make the leap because it involved a permanent vow of celibacy. That was when I first learned that diocesan priests do in fact have the option to ‘laicize’ — to renounce their faculties (though remaining a priest) and get married. A mildly famous example is Catholic author Amy Welborn’s (now deceased) husband.

    So if the specific difference of a vocation is a permanent commitment to a particular family state, that would make marriage a vocation and Holy Orders not a vocation. The former intrinsically and always involves a permanent commitment to a particular family state until death; the latter does not.

  • Aquinas Dad says:

    Interestingly, I just sent this section of my book off for another round of editing.

    The Catholic Church defines two sorts of vocation; general and specific. General vocations are spiritual activities that are part of our general duties as Christians and have a deontological aspect. These are things like routine prayer, attendance at Mass, fasting at the proper seasons, etc. This is what is referred to when the Church mentions ‘all Christians are called to vocations’.

    There are also specific vocations; these are religious orders and matrimony. Specific vocations differ from general vocations in that they involve both particular sacraments and particular graces that each result in a fundamental change to the nature of the person(s) receiving them and fulfilling them. Bl. John Paul II referred to matrimony as ‘an ongoing liturgical act’ in demonstration of the differences.

    Because of this we can view ‘being single’ as a transitional state between childhood and a particular vocation. But there are a (very) few people called to neither Holy Orders nor Matrimony. If after long discernment and consultation with their confessor a particular Catholic feels they lack a particular vocation they remain in a stated of chastity and general vocation (only).

    Because a specific vocation is a calling from God to participate in a sacrament it is a sin to delay your vocation needlessly. Material concerns (i.e., career) are not to delay your vocation!

    Marissa,
    The Catechism does define matrimony as a vocation.

  • outis says:

    Thanks for the comments about spiritual direction, Zippy. On the few times I have asked someone about this issue (which is hard because I am so painfully shy), I am always told to find a good spiritual director. I might as well be told to find a good husband. I tend to think that obedience to some human-yet-spiritual authority is important, especially for a woman. But maybe that’s wrong in general, or wrong for me specifically. I have trouble working it out.

    A close relative was laicized after making his final vows as a priest of a religious order. His wife was a religious sister who was released from her own vows, and they were married in the Church. This is not too uncommon, though it is a scandal, and a source of pain for the children of that marriage.

    Aquinas Dad,

    The consecration of a virgin or religious sister or brother is of course not a sacrament, and so I do not think that *every* specific vocation is “a calling from God to participate in a sacrament” — unless I misunderstood what you mean by “specific vocation.”

  • Mark Citadel says:

    I had never really considered this distinction to much before.

    Bravo, Zippy! Posts like this always make me challenge my preconceived assumptions.

    Vocation for a man being limited to priesthood, fatherhood, and bachelorhood makes total sense, since these are where our soul lies as we live our life. Careers are simply ancillary devotions.

  • Zippy says:

    Mark Citadel:
    For what it is worth, the particular event which prompted me to write this post consisted of words coming out of my own mouth. At least half of understanding modernity and all of it flaws involves introspection.

  • Aquinas Dad says:

    Outis,
    I meant to write ‘Holy Orders’ not religious orders. [thus, editors]

  • Kristor says:

    Ita:

    I realize it is paradoxical, but I tend to think that a Christianity that unambiguously established the clerical and single consecrated lives as an ideal would see an improvement among families.

    Absolutely. If we don’t valorize the sublime ideal, why then its pretty much automatically a race to the bottom. I don’t quite see the logic of why this should be so (so that I can’t (yet) explain just why I think it is so, but nevertheless my guts tell me it’s true. It’s something like this: “Well, if little Sr. Kate can do it, I suppose I can too.”

  • Mel says:

    In the archdiocese of Cincinnati, the Archbishop has us pray for vocations at every Sunday Mass. One of the vocations prayed for is for those called to the vocation of the “Chaste Single Life”. Interestingly this vocation is listed right after those called to the religious life and before the diaconate and marriage . Make of that what you will.

  • TMLutas says:

    There was a thread at Catholic Answers covering whether one could be both an MD and a priest. Short answer: yes.

    http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=675065

    Whoever the original subject of the thread was consulting with for spiritual direction didn’t serve the fellow very well.

  • Philip says:

    Great article. Been thinking this for a long time. Not just a case of ultra modern Church progressives murdering the spirit but also taking the seriousness away from a divine calling.

  • Philip says:

    …one other thing: why isn’t the need for vocations to the Church more often announced, are priests ashamed or depressed? Why are the laity not kept an eye on and maybe singled out to be suggested for religious life, does it not matter?

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    @Phillip:

    are priests ashamed or depressed?

    More like, “silenced”.

    Unfortunately, these days the magisterium can only deliver news to those who are actively listening for it. When was the last time you heard news about anything having anything to do with what’s going on with the Church in your diocese – without actively seeking said news out? The most someone can get without really trying is the scant few announcements your pastor gives after mass; but knowing that your parish is hosting a bake sale next week hardly tells you anything about the state of the Church as a whole.

    Even on the international level – what’s going on in the Vatican – this is mostly the case. The mainstream media hardly says anything about the Church, and what it does say can’t be trusted. You have to do good, thorough research of your own to get the scoop on what’s going on in the world of Catholicism, and most don’t put in the time. There’s not a damn thing that any individual priest can do about that either.

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