Vocation: Nothing’s Inevitable

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December 3, 2012 by lucieromarin

It has become commonplace to present vocation discernment something along these lines:  Pray. Eventually, hear the Voice of God. Meet future spouse/future religious superior. Embrace vocation.

Therefore, when this doesn’t happen, (or, at least, doesn’t happen by the age at which it starts to sting) the hurt is greater than it need be, simply because the missing result was sold as inevitable. The seeker starts to question himself, rather than questioning the marketing. Have I said the wrong prayers? Am I dressing the wrong way? Have I secretly not given myself over to God’s will as much as other people have?

No! The problem is not you. (Well, okay, the problem could have been you, but let’s assume you’ve dealt with that, and it isn’t anymore, and you’re still single, and now you’re perplexed.) The problem is the assumption that a particular set of actions should produce a particular result, when this is really only a very recent idea.

The vast majority of Catholics throughout history did not discern or choose their vocations in the way that we now consider normal. That is, the will of your father, birth order, and the dowry system chose your vocation for you, and not only did people accept this system – they became saints in it.

Both St Rita of Cascia and St Frances of Rome told their spiritual directors that they wished to enter religious life, but that their fathers wished otherwise. Both spiritual directors advised them to do whatever their fathers wanted. Hildegard of Bingen was placed, at eight years old, in a monastery she had not chosen. When St Elizabeth of Hungary was betrothed to a spouse she had not chosen, she was only five. St Hyacintha Mariscotti entered the religious life only because the man she loved proposed to her younger sister, and it took her years to be reconciled to her state in life. St Clare did escape to religious life, despite her father’s will, but the only reason she founded an enclosed order was because she was not allowed to found the active order she really wanted. St Gemma Galgani had no wish to be a single laywoman; she only stopped begging her spiritual director to place her in a convent when tuberculosis made it clear that she was not going anywhere but heaven. Blessed Celestina of the Mother of God felt at the age of 13 that she was called to religious life, but she was thwarted by her father’s wishes until the age of 41. Blessed Pierina Morosini worked shift work in a factory until the day of her murder, because her father discouraged her dream of religious life. You get the picture. The saints didn’t choose a place and then become holy in it. They became holy in places that other people had chosen for them, and thus became exemplars of these vocations.

Outside forces, too, effect whether or not Catholics find themselves in the lives they wish for. The Black Death, the trenches of World War 1, and abortion have done as much to influence whether or not Catholics meet and marry as has anything else.

What this means is not that vocation discernment is an even more hopeless prospect than we first thought. It means that just because your life isn’t working the way you expected it to doesn’t mean it isn’t working. History is full of saints who became great in lives or vocations they didn’t choose or didn’t want. They still became great saints. You could be next.

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