October 19, 2013 by lucieromarin
The wrong kind of interminable vocation-discussion can have an unintended side effect; it can reduce persons of the opposite sex to nothing more than potential marriage partners. This does everyone a disservice, and is only marginally better than the secular habit of reducing the opposite sex to potential sexual partners. (Granted, it doesn’t involve willing mortal sin, so it’s a pretty wide margin, but it’s a reduction all the same.)
My preferred solution to this is to temper the idea of vocation with the memories of saints who became great, in part, through relationships which had nothing to do with romantic ideals of marriage, and often nothing to do with marriage at all. It could just be me, but I find that they remind me not only of how varied our relationships can be, but of how many shared paths to happiness there are.
Saints Benedict and Scholastica were brother and sister; they didn’t just become great; they became great together. You’ll remember, too, the story of the brothers of St Francis, who, seeing their house on fire, rushed indoors to save him, to find that nothing was on fire at all, but that St Francis and St Clare were sitting together talking about the love of God.
Meanwhile, there’s a giant thesis waiting to be written (not by me) about the relationships of women with their spiritual directors. I feel sorry for the men – even when they become holy, it’s their charges who become popular. St Catherine of Siena has eclipsed Blessed Raymond of Capua in fame; similarly, more of us recognise the name of St Teresa of Avila than St Peter of Alcantara. St Gemma Galgani is loved worldwide; her babbo, Venerable Father Germanus, is barely remembered. It’s easy to forget, then, that these women and men weren’t just great-people-whose-paths-crossed; they were people who became great because of the relationships they had with one another. The women’s sanctity can, in part, be attributed to the influence of holy directors; at the same time, the directors themselves became holy, in part, through the experience of directing holy women. (I mean, think of it from the priest’s viewpoint. The Ven. Father Germanus never had the slightest interest in directing a woman like the young Gemma Galgani; for a regular priest, being sent to train a mystic and victim soul is like a medical G.P suddenly being ordered onto a battlefield to perform emergency surgery under gunfire.)
On an early-church note – I love Sts Cyprian and Justina. Justina was an Antiochian consecrated virgin. Cyprian was the most famous sorcerer of his day (the real deal; not a charlatan). He cast a love spell on her, and, for the first time in his career, experienced the feeling of a curse bouncing back. The duel ended with his conversion, his penance, his ordination to the priesthood, their meeting, and their friendship. They, who started out as enemies, ended by enduring torture and martyrdom together.
St Francis de Sales and St Jane Frances de Chantal will always be remembered in tandem. One a bishop, the other married, then widowed, then a foundress, they established together a new form of religious life and spirituality in the Church…without him ever, once, being jealous of her husband, and without either, ever, wishing for some part of the other’s vocation.
Bl. Bartolo Longo travelled to Rome with a good friend, a woman older than he by a several years. They went to the Pope with a problem. Their work together on the building of New Pompeii occasioned gossip (apparently, to pious minds, if a man and woman work together on a project for the glory of God, they must also be enjoying a secret life of mortal sin); what were they to do? “Why not just get married?” said the Pope. So, they did, just like that! The moral of the story is not that we should all enter into marriages because of wagging tongues; it’s this… neither of them were hankering after marriage in the first place, because they both found sufficient happiness for the day in good friendship and a shared cause.
I don’t think it matters that we’re not consecrated. The saints didn’t settle for these friendships because they were so in love with God that nothing else really mattered. They became great together, through these relationships, because their capacity to love was made so wide and deep that they no longer depended on one thing only for happiness. And that width-and-depth is available to us too…not, mind you, that I’m about to be declared St Lucy the Deep-Hearted any time soon. This isn’t a post about What I Discovered When I Became Holy, but How I Remind Myself to Not Reduce Men to Objects. Different story!
Of course, if you have no brothers, no director, no guy-friend in a great mutual project, it’s a lot easier to want a romantic relationship for the wrong reasons – not just the wrong reasons to do with babies, but reasons to do with missing male company. So, it helps to remember that the joy of marriage is only meant to be the joy of marriage; it’s not meant to be every possible kind of joy, and it doesn’t hurt to ask from time to time if a persistent hankering for romance would be so persistent if you had other kinds of male friendship in your life. So, too, you want to avoid listening to vocation-exhortations until your brain shrivels up and you find yourself incapable of asking anything about a guy other than, “Could I marry him?”