Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Thinking Inside The Box

I came across a piece by Tom Kreitzberg, St Blog's Thomist-in-Residence over at Disputations, entitled "The Helpful Catholic's Guide to Discerning Other People's Vocations For Them." But what the hey, I'll reproduce it here. He won't mind.

It happens all the time. I'm at a party, and the subject of The Catholic Church comes up. Someone asks a question about it, or (usually) says something really retarded, and I'm able to provide an explanation everybody can live it (which is not the same thing as agreeing, okay?). Then comes the inevitable question: "Were you ever a priest or in the seminary?" I tell them, no, but Dad was in the seminary for seven years, is that close enough? I don't tell them how good I was in catechism class, because I wasn't. Even though my dear departed Grandma Rosselot was always impressed by my knowledge of particular saints, religion class for me was a real snooze-fest, whether before or after Vatican II. Before, it was just writing down questions already in the book and making sure the answers were in complete sentences before getting whacked with a ruler. After, it was about inane questions like, "How can a sixth-grader best bring the example of Christ to the world?" This didn't exactly call for quantifiable information, but getting in touch with your feelings, something I preferred to do by making wise-cracks. Or writing answers like "The same way as a fifth-grader, only one year later."

As an adult, you might begin to get the feeling that "the Church" attempts to put everyone into one of three little boxes, ostensibly known as "discerning your vocation." You are either in The Single Box, The Married Box, or The Priesthood/Religious Life Box. The first Box is, of course, a holding place until you figured out which of the other two was your ultimate destiny. If you are divorced and don't have an annulment, you are still in The Married Box, which means you have to act like you are still married. This is harder than it looks without the involvement of a spouse, especially if they ran off and found another one -- albeit invalidly. (In a Catholic setting, when you have to admit to people you're divorced, you all know what the next question is, don't you? I would always answer: "Why, you got a sister?" A real conversation-stopper, yup, that's me...)

Now, the worst kept secret here at mwbh is that its author is not exactly a Roman Catholic poster boy. That's why I won't get dozens of responses to this in the combox from the usual round of adoring fans (and you both know who you are) because I write the same crap you'll read everywhere else, or have some tawdry conversion story that I can parlay into a book deal. (My life should have been so exciting.) No, I simply read too much for my own good, the more arcane the better. I actually interviewed for a Catholic newspaper once. The editor was a priest who couldn't figure out why a layman would be so interested in liturgical stuff. That was about ten years ago. Now I'm the master of ceremonies for an Old Latin Mass, and half the guys who serve the "TLM" in the DC area are adults. I'm pretty sure most of them aren't gay.

My point (and there is one here eventually) is that, if the process of discerning a vocation is truly dependent on determining God's will, as opposed to anyone else's, then it's going to be on God's terms, and God's timetable -- again, as opposed to anyone else's. I get tired of some fresh-faced twit in a Roman collar telling a Theology On Tap crowd how they must "discern their vocation," while implying that there is some kind of deadline to meet. You don't see many people over 35 at those things, do you? I used to go to them, but the minute I'd strike up a conversation with someone, it's pretty clear that it's either a gal who decides I'm not "marriage material" (sorry, ladies!), or it's a guy who just bumped into a gal who is.

But enough about me. Discernment can take years for some people, not because they're wasting their time, but because God's isn't the same as ours. Our lives are a mystery, even to those of us who live them, as we see so little of the total picture. The lives of any number of saints will attest to this (including one young Dominican friar referred to in Tom's piece, who really should be doing Theology On Tap himself.)

Another thing I can't get over, is the number of engagements that are announced among graduates of the new wave of "orthodox" Catholic colleges. I'm familiar with their policies on "fraternization," and I just gotta know how the hell those young'uns pull it off? Oh, I've heard all the canned explanations about how "we start by learning to be friends." Oh yeah, like most kids fresh out of high school have that down to a science. It's probably because they got sold on the bill of goods that they had no time to waste for "doing God's work." Not that these things don't work out, mind you. But after ten years and five kids, I wonder if the magic is still there, or the love, or whatever. Someone should conduct a study. It might tell us something about the choices we make.

Not to mention why, and what God ever really had to do with it.


erin is nice said...

Another thing I can't get over, is the number of engagements that are announced among graduates of the new wave of "orthodox" Catholic colleges. I'm familiar with their policies on "fraternization," and I just gotta know how the hell those young'uns pull it off?

we were just really, really sneaky. ha. (more "premature" babies are born from these orthodox college students than you'd think)
almost 7 years and 4 kids later, we're very happy, but i won't say it was easy. and i won't say we shouldn't have waited.
i am actually very much against young marriage now, and some of the Catholics i know look at me like i'm a horrible person when i say no one should get married under the age of 25.

David L Alexander said...


I dunno, I can imagine any number of young men being compelled to "do the honorable thing," as we called it back home. But I'm glad it all worked out for you. So are your kids. I just think the people who run some of these colleges really do a number on themselves, into thinking they can remove all risk from human relationships by acting "in loco parentis." Who are they kidding? Certainly not the students.


mrsdarwin said...

Another thing I can't get over, is the number of engagements that are announced among graduates of the new wave of "orthodox" Catholic colleges. I'm familiar with their policies on "fraternization," and I just gotta know how the hell those young'uns pull it off?

With a great deal of frustration, let me tell you. These colleges carefully ensure that there are no quiet places students of the opposite gender can get any privacy, so necking in the bushes is almost the only option. :)

Seriously, though, many of our friends from college met their spouse while at school. Among those who didn't, most are still single these seven years later and report that it's very hard to find a good Catholic out in the "real world". Not that it doesn't happen, of course, but that pickings are slim.

YoungCatholicSTL said...

Nice chart. Every man should desire to be called to the priesthood and be disappointed when his vocation is to marriage (like myself) and not to the blessed life of a priest. Every priest should encourage every unmarried male he encounters, from child to adult, to consider the priesthood. I was lucky to be encouraged in my spiritual discernment, and while, in the end I determined marriage was the vocation for me, I still desire for that holy life of the priesthood.