As I was saying, I think there are three vocations:
#1: MARRIED LIFE
#2: RELIGIOUS LIFE
#3: SINGLE LIFE
I put married life first because it’s the one most people are called to, and because I think that it is too often the case that the married state is looked upon as ‘second best.’ It’s not exactly or usually stated in these words, but all too often, there’s an unstated notion that God’s Favoritest People are the priests, and maybe – kind of – the sisters too. Depending on how confused you are about Catholicism, you may even believe that the Church thinks the Pope is The Greatest Person Ever Invented. (Heresy I guess can be quite entertaining – no wonder the weekly-increasing numbers of Protestant-ish churches – it’s like new flavours of ice cream – a new version arrives just because it might sell well. Chesterton wrote that blasphemy is an artistic effect. I say something not too different here.) Now perhaps Pope Francis is the Greatest Person Ever Invented – I’m not saying that he isn’t – but it’s not part of official teaching.
So anyway, here we go. No time limit. Probably a long post.
I personally believe, now, that God has in mind for you, someone special. And he’s not so disorganized that he is going to put this person in Japan if you are living in Mexico. (Ha ha – here I am referring to God being not so disorganized; as for your future spouse, he may be quite disorganized!) God also will not put this person somewhere very far out of your ordinary circle of acquaintances and friends at the time you decide you’d like to find Mr or Miss Right.
My theory then, is very much in favour of marrying rather young. I don’t think 20 years old is too young to be married. I don’t think a girl needs to be single and wander around for x number of years, seeing guy after guy, before finally settling down.
Who said THAT was a Really Swell Plan?
What do these people think a woman’s heart is made of anyway? Teflon? Nothing sticks? Nothing hurts?
Show me a woman who has been dating and seeing and hanging out and hooking up for a few years and I’ll show you a tough broad who is dying on the inside.
The princess inside her is gasping for air.
As a matter of fact, her body has become a stone tower with a trapped princess who barely looks out the window anymore. She doesn’t search the horizon for her prince, because she’s become convinced – he’s not there. Poor thing.
No, it’s not the way.
But fortunately for her, and for all of the girls, your good prince will wait (not necessarily intentionally). When you finally come to your senses, you’ll see he was right there, all along. Although if you wait until you’re 28 or 33 to finally settle down, your fella will probably be around 32 or 35 or 36. Probably. He’ll be that nice guy who keeps crashing into doors, who keeps bumbling into 2x4s, who seems clueless about girls. That’s him. That’s your prince. Don’t dismiss him. Don’t ever dismiss the “nice” boy – even if the rest of your friends do. That’s your big clue. The boy that you think is unfailing nice, could very possibly be the one that God has chosen for you. Don’t be surprised that he doesn’t seem flashy or popular or whatever.
Consider this: does he seem like the type that wouldn’t laugh if you were in a bit of a pinch and needed, confidentially, a tiny bit of help? Does he seem like the type who would, if you needed, lend you a hand, discreetly? Without texting the details to all of his buds? Hmm. Maybe it’s him.
My point is, you won’t find the right guy if you approach it all wrong. If you think that you are so beautiful that OF COURSE the only fellow who would be good enough is Mr. I’m-Too-Cool-For-You, then you’re going to be very disappointed, and you’re going to be hurt. You may even be used (guys nowadays often have almost no conscience when it comes to the reputation and dignity of women). Conversely, if you’re the kind of guy who thinks you’re so hot that all the girls want a piece of you, then I’m sorry, you’ll be the one who needs to lose a whole lot of style and a whole lot of flash (not to mention, cash) before God will show you your path. (By then, maybe you’ll be so holy and good that you’ll be quite joyful and tearful and happy to discover you were called to be a Trappist monk from the very beginning. Vows: poverty, chastity and obedience – yes, yes and oh yeah baby. Trust me, it can happen this way and it could happen to you. God makes all things new.)
But if you have an honest desire to settle down, and you actually want to find the right one, you’ll find your spouse. You don’t need to be Catholic or even Christian to do so. If you’re a girl, your future husband will be there, treating you right from the moment you meet. If you’re a boy, your future wife will be there, just friendly and nice. God will arrange things to make it easy for you. But your heart has to be in the right place. Then your eyes will be opened and you’ll see, “Aha! A good mate for life.”
So, as I was saying, I’m in favour of marriage on the youngish side. I wouldn’t interfere with a couple (let’s say she’s 18 and he’s 22) who are in love and who want to make it official. Hmm. Let me rephrase that. (After all, I could very well imagine myself getting very excited and asking where they’re holding their post-wedding dinner reception.) What I mean is, I wouldn’t discourage him or her, with some stupid phrase about Fish In the Sea, or about Seeing the World, or about Waiting for No Particular Reason or about More Education About Things that Don’t Actually Matter.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to Information. It’s okay. I’m not opposed to Education. It’s okay.
But these things were never meant to interfere with the Good Stuff, the Human Stuff, the Real Life Business of Enjoying the Free Stuff the Best Stuff in Life. The best things in life are free, as they say.
Falling in love, marrying, having children, hugging them and helping them as they grow up, teaching them right from wrong, having them teach you right from wrong, watching them fall in love, watching them marry, watching them have children – these are the best things in this state of life.
Ask any Hollywood movie star who theoretically, Has It All.
Sure, she’s been in this movie and that, but what makes her swoon – you can tell – is the baby she’s got, now, finally, after all of these years. And, as everyone knows, that is the subplot the readers are actually watching. The things intriguing and interesting to the average reader are the Little Details called MOTHERHOOD, MARRIAGE, CHILDREN. Why do those headlines make the readers click, click and click on the websites? Why do those headlines make the shoppers buy magazine after magazine? It’s because those are actually the stories that are wired inside us – deep, deep inside us. We don’t know why we care, but we do. The movie stars are, for many people, like the characters of a story that we’ve all been hearing, together, as a culture.
Consider the opposite. Would you rush out and buy the magazine if the story concerned Information and Education? No, you wouldn’t.
“Hey look, Emma: Movie Star B is taking up a side career in Freelance Photography!!!!!!”
Does Emma care?
“Hey look, Ethan: Movie Star C is taking up a side career in Geometry!!!!!!”
Does Ethan care?
AND WHY NOT?
Because it’s boring!
So much for Information and Education.
Nothing against such things, but, um, let’s not let them get in the way.
We’ve got a life to live.
The 18-year-old is madly in love with the young man of 22. Don’t second-guess her. Be happy for her. Be happy for him. They blush when they see each other and they’re walking on air. That’s good. That’s natural. Don’t be the cynical old lady, the bitter old man and sneer at their devotion to each other. Let it flourish, undivided and pure, untainted by trips to the bar, by trips to Tahiti with ‘the rest of the girls.’
Just because you waited, in the style of your time, until you were aged 20 + X or 30 + Y does not = marital success or even earthly happiness.
Those who marry around 20 will find that the human body is quite cooperative during this time with all things marital. Children will follow, usually, quite easily. IVF need not apply. (Don’t do it, no matter the reason.)
And I don’t mean to suggest that those who remain single are always looking incorrectly. Perhaps they are called to a different kind of life. I’ll talk about that.
RELIGIOUS LIFE: There are some children who distinguish themselves rather early by slightly different habits. They may be called to religious life.
It can appear even in infancy – their tendencies may be more towards quiet time on their own and maybe a more distinct rhythm of eating-sleeping-playing. A baby who will ultimately be called for religious life might be more capable of sleeping on his or her own, for example.
And here’s something else. All children are instinctively aware of how to guard their privacy, but a child whose future includes religious life will generally be more sensitive about this topic. You do wrong if you do not honour their requests to avoid certain situations and destinations (a boy called to the priesthood may decline invitations to the beaches; a girl called to be a sister may not want to be particularly near that sporty-hey-how-ya-doin’-punch-ya-in-the-arm uncle). The child may not be aware of the reasons for his preferences, but they’re just there. Don’t demand that such a child justify his style, any more than you would demand that his sister justify her love of cuddling baby rabbits. If a girl wants time alone to read another psalm, then let her. Perhaps something special is coming.
And here, I make a point of not distinguishing between a boy’s call to religious life (priest, deacon, brother) and a girl’s call (sister).
As for the call itself, a genuine call should be felt as something beautiful. It should beckon as something like a romance. A quick glance, a quick touch, should flicker into something bigger. A steadier look, a longer dialogue, a pause – and then – well, a big smile, an open heart, a yes and a yes. True love. Once again, don’t interfere.
A call to religious life should never be a Plan B. It shouldn’t ever be the case that a woman says to herself, “If I’m not married by 27 then that must mean I’m supposed to become a sister.” No. That’s not quite right.
If you are meant to belong to Christ as a spouse, then you’ll be drawn; you’ll fall in love.
And remember, especially in the case of sisters, Christ is perfectly capable of ‘hiding’ from the world those he has chosen in this way. From a rather early age, the world won’t notice your son or your daughter whose future lies this way. Somewhat overlooked or under-appreciated or generally unnoticed, your religious-life child will develop a faith life and emerge, like a butterfly from a chrysalis, on the other side.
[Note added April 30, 2016 MST 3:30 p.m. – or… maybe not. As this baby or child matures, the thing to note will be personal space. The desire for time alone will likely be replaced by a desire for personal space. In other words, this son or daughter of yours will be the one who keeps that smidgen of increased physical distance between himself/herself and almost everyone else. In particular, they will strongly dislike their personal space being violated without warning. Airports are unpleasant. And when it comes to clothing, hand-me-downs and clothing from the thrift store are a difficult matter. The future priest and the future sister will be a little more leery of wearing garments with an unknown history. Saving a dime isn’t always okay.]
SINGLE LIFE: a person who is called to the single life is called to carry out, in the world, a life performing the corporal acts of mercy that cannot easily be executed by those in the married state or the religious state. A single person can take chances and risks that are not advisable to those in the two other states. For example, it is not right for a married woman to go out in the evenings doing work among the poor for St. Vincent de Paul. Who knows what will happen to her? Who is taking care of her own children tonight? I strongly disagree with the behaviour of (St./Blessed?) Dorothy Day in her choice to bring her daughter Tamar to live in places of extreme poverty when she could have done otherwise. In the name of solidarity with the poor, her daughter suffered more than a little bit of neglect from her mother. That was a mistake. It was a violation of her responsibility as a mother for Dorothy Day to expose her daughter to hardship that could have been avoided. True, she meant well to the poor, but it’s not a good model to follow. When your ‘good deed’ involves you giving less than your best to a child that God has given you, then you’re on the wrong path. The end, no matter how ‘lofty’ or ‘righteous’ doesn’t justify the means. Christianity 101.
However, had Dorothy Day been single, then things would be different. She could have acted with a free hand to sleep in unclean and cramped places and so on and so forth. Such a choice wouldn’t have had her imposing a ‘sacrifice’ on a dependent other.
The world benefits from having people who can roll their sleeves up and heroically prepare to give everything that they have. But a mother or a father cannot offer ‘everything’ in this same way, because he or she BELONGS, you could say, in a special way, to others, already. Such a person is part of a family that he or she has brought into being, and so every decision must be made in keeping with total loyalty to that family.
The work of an activist is part of this single state territory, in my opinion. It isn’t a good fit for a man with a family or for a religious sister, a priest, or a brother.
And for that matter, I now look askance at any order of sisters that casually plunges its members into the role of activist for some social cause or for some special group.
I used to receive a glossy publication with sisters who look rather Photoshop perfect. Here I see a sister conducting some up-close-and-personal-Life-site-news-ish-one-on-one interview and I wonder. What is a sister doing sitting across the room from this rather handsome man asking question after question about this-that-and-this? Hmm. I wonder. I unsubscribed.
Yes, nowadays I wonder about some orders in general (not to name names, but look for sisters whose veils remain quite white even after final vows have been said). Was and is that really part of God’s great design? Or is it, like 40-days-for-life, a misfire? A human desire?
Would Christ really have intended his brides to be performing all that on-the-street advocacy and all those corporal acts of mercy day in and day out? Spiritual acts of mercy, I don’t question at all. But corporal? I wonder. Perhaps such women were meant to do what they do, but perhaps the single state was the approach they were meant to use. Or maybe they are called to be married. I wonder.
Sisters are meant to be part of a community – with each other. They are called ‘sisters’ for a reason. They aren’t meant to be lone-star art-teaching speech-giving types, where you can’t even figure out what order they are from. For the most part, if you see a sister alone, she’s quite far from home.
So there you have it. Three vocations. Add a lisp and you’ve got my post for Thaturday.