No Gyrovagues!

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November 27, 2012 by lucieromarin

Some years ago, a young man of my acquaintance invited the Missionary Sisters of Charity to a University O-Week. They declined the invitation, as the dates and times clashed with their existing duties, and, telling me about it, he said in amazement, “I don’t understand it. I mean, don’t they want vocations?”

Clearly, he had not noticed that this well-established religious order had never suffered from a want of vocations and therefore did not need his help to save them from a non-existent problem, but his comment was deeply telling for another reason, which was for the assumption that things can be achieved and graces earned by setting aside one’s God-given duties in favour of Catholic events. It was not that the Sisters did not want vocations; it was that they knew that obedience to their duty was the best and fastest way to acquire them.

It is possible for lay Catholics to be addressed in similar terms if they choose not to become involved in projects of great importance – whether that importance be in reality, or in the minds of the project-managers, or both. It’s a short step from “Why weren’t you at our prayer vigil/show/stand/meeting/Mass,” or “Why didn’t you buy a ticket/badge/booklet/product-made-in-China” to “Don’t you care about it?” It is true that one can show one’s love for God, Our Lady, the Church, the unborn, and what-have-you by going to something, but the implication is, sometimes, that by not going to something, you show you don’t care about it.

This is not true. Early Christian writers had a number of pejorative terms for wandering monks – men with itchy feet who couldn’t stay in the one monastery, but who had to travel from place to place. The ‘gyrovagi’, as they were called, (that is, those who wander in circles) or the ‘circumcelliones’ (those who prowl around the barns) had all kinds of vices attributed to them, largely because saints such as St Benedict and St Augustine did not trust men who could not stay put.

Okay, it’s not quite the same thing as an excessive attachment to the Catholic calendar or the habit of bullying those who prefer a fewer-but-deeper kind of commitment to apostolate, but it’s close enough. Any need for constant stimulation is a kind of gluttony, especially when it leads to the neglect of one’s own duty or the disparagement of other people. Having said this, I’m not sure that giving a speech along these lines is the right response to people who pressure you to join their projects.

So! I propose a new tactic. Perhaps you’ve said, “Oh, I’m so sorry; I’m already busy then, but here, let me take a flyer anyway, because I’m sure I can pass it on to someone,” but the project-manager persists. Perhaps you’re just not forthright (or ill-mannered?) enough to answer his, “But why won’t you do it?” with, “Because it just doesn’t interest me,” which – I can tell you from experience -is an effective form of dismissal, but not much of a bridge-builder. In this case, I suggest you sigh deeply, and say, “My spiritual director has told me to avoid circumcelliones,” or,”Well…the thing is… I’m not a gyrovague.”

And then run away.

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