Sunday, November 20, 2005

You'll Forgive Me if I Disagree

I have been meaning to write something on this, although I confess that anything I write is somewhat provisional. I haven't done nearly the research that I need to, so please be satisfied with a thoughtful sketch and we will go from there.

First, let me say that this is a touchy subject. I expect that many people who profess to have the single state as their vocation will not like what I am about to say. Fine. I can accept that. But any and all comments need to be rational, not emotional. If I hurt your feelings or upset in some way, I am sorry at the outset. However, that doesn't change the fact that some clarity is needed in this discussion.

When the Church, especially in the light of the Second Vatican Council (henceforth VII), speaks of vocation, there is two degrees meant: the universal or common vocation and the particular vocation. The universal vocation of every Christian is holiness of life which is directed to the bliss of heaven. This goes for EVERYONE. Priest, religious, married couple, child, single, everyone must strive for holiness. This is merely another way to speak of the election we have in Christ. When we were created, we were made to know God, to love Him, to serve Him, and to be happy with Him in this life and in the life to come. Even though we can, and too often do stray from the path, the intention in our creation was to spend eternity with the Holy Trinity. The rubber hits the road though when we ask the all-important question of how, specifically, how do I live the call to holiness given my state of life. This brings us to the particular vocation.

Rather than spell out the three commonly accepted particular vocations, priesthood, religious life, and marriage, I want to point out what all three have in common. First, all three require a period of testing and examination before being accepted into that state of life. Second, all three require a public profession that one is undertaking this life, freely and without force. Third, all three create not only a specific mission within, but also a specific set of obligations to the Church. Fourth, all three require recognition and permission by the Church to leave or to take up another of these states. Fifth, all three particular vocations require discernment and the confirmation of the Church, through her proper authorities, before one can take it on. Compare that to the single state qua single state and you will see it has nothing in common with these particular vocations.

What's to be done then? Up front, let me point out that being single is no obstacle to fulfilling your general vocation to holiness. If anything, I think it probably opens the playing field to other things that many of us would not be able to do. But vocation, especially particular vocation, is not a functionalistic job description. It is an identity which Christ places upon each person from the very heart of eternity. That particular vocation serves to build up the Church by being at the service of Communion, or in the case of religious and consecrated life, embodying the Communion we will all share in the kingdom of our Father in Heaven. If one discerns that one is meant to be a celibate, but not entering into a religious order, that is possible. It is a public vow of virginity that the one seeks to take. But means of this vow, the person would be enrolled in the consecrated life in the Church. Here is what the Catechism says on the subject:

914 "The state of life which is constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels, while not entering into the hierarchical structure of the Church, belongs undeniably to her life and holiness."

Evangelical counsels, consecrated life

915 Christ proposes the evangelical counsels, in their great variety, to every disciple. the perfection of charity, to which all the faithful are called, entails for those who freely follow the call to consecrated life the obligation of practicing chastity in celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, poverty and obedience. It is the profession of these counsels, within a permanent state of life recognized by the Church, that characterizes the life consecrated to God.

916 The religious state is thus one way of experiencing a "more intimate" consecration, rooted in Baptism and dedicated totally to God. In the consecrated life, Christ's faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose to follow Christ more nearly, to give themselves to God who is loved above all and, pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the Kingdom, to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come.

One great tree, with many branches

917 "From the God-given seed of the counsels a wonderful and wide-spreading tree has grown up in the field of the Lord, branching out into various forms of the religious life lived in solitude or in community. Different religious families have come into existence in which spiritual resources are multiplied for the progress in holiness of their members and for the good of the entire Body of Christ."

918 From the very beginning of the Church there were men and women who set out to follow Christ with greater liberty, and to imitate him more closely, by practicing the evangelical counsels. They led lives dedicated to God, each in his own way. Many of them, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, became hermits or founded religious families. These the Church, by virtue of her authority, gladly accepted and approved.

919 Bishops will always strive to discern new gifts of consecrated life granted to the Church by the Holy Spirit; the approval of new forms of consecrated life is reserved to the Apostolic See.

The eremitic life

920 Without always professing the three evangelical counsels publicly, hermits "devote their life to the praise of God and salvation of the world through a stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude and assiduous prayer and penance."

921 They manifest to everyone the interior aspect of the mystery of the Church, that is, personal intimacy with Christ. Hidden from the eyes of men, the life of the hermit is a silent preaching of the Lord, to whom he has surrendered his life simply because he is everything to him. Here is a particular call to find in the desert, in the thick of spiritual battle, the glory of the Crucified One.

Consecrated virgins

922 From apostolic times Christian virgins, called by the Lord to cling only to him with greater freedom of heart, body, and spirit, have decided with the Church's approval to live in a state of virginity "for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven."

923 "Virgins who, committed to the holy plan of following Christ more closely, are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, are betrothed mystically to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church." By this solemn rite (Consecratio virginum), the virgin is "constituted . . . a sacred person, a transcendent sign of the Church's love for Christ, and an eschatological image of this heavenly Bride of Christ and of the life to come."
[N.B. Here is the case I mentioned. You'll notice that no mention is made of a religious order. Instead the person in question makes a public profession, which has duties and obligations, which constitutes a particular public witness. It is also to be noted that generally the word "consecrated virgin" denotes a woman. I wonder if or how the procedure and prayers are different for a man.]

924 "As with other forms of consecrated life," the order of virgins establishes the woman living in the world (or the nun) in prayer, penance, service of her brethren, and apostolic activity, according to the state of life and spiritual gifts given to her. Consecrated virgins can form themselves into associations to observe their commitment more faithfully.

The principal problem with this article on Catholic Exchange is that it lacks proper distinctions both in terms of purpose and in terminology. The question of vocation is not a question of what I want or what work I am supposed to be doing. The question is what does Christ want me to do and where in the Church can I be set to task? That requires more than a can-do spirit. It requires the input and the discernment of the Church's hierarchy, just as every other particular vocation demands.

No comments: