One of my favorite stories about the Saints does not involve an act of heroic courage or gruesome self-denial but rather involves a starkly honest admission by St. Theresa of Avila directed to God after St. Theresa fell down into the mud on her way to her convent during a storm: “If this is how You treat your friends, no wonder You have so few of them!”
One element of Catholicism that keeps me tenuously hanging on (like four or five fingers) is the understanding that, pace those damn televangelists, living well does not guarantee an easy and blessed life. In fact, if history can be trusted, those who strive to live transcendentally are often the ones who suffer the worst. Hence, St. Theresa’s comment. However, suffering is never suffered as a brute fact; it always possesses the potential to be redemptive. I have found no other system of belief that can give suffering a place in the grand scheme of things. The flip side to this is the drama that attends what most people mindlessly amble into: vocational choice.
One of my priests recently called me back into the vestibule to ask me if I have ever considered religious orders. What Catholic guy has not at some point? I laughed (and so did he) as I said, “Oh, once or twice.” He then proceeded to ask me how old I am and remind me that I am not getting any younger. Well. Being one of the few people my age at the parish interested in the Latin Mass may make me a vocations target. Also, given that I am not already married, there must be something greater at play–as I was actually told by another priest.
I used to think about holy orders very often. Once, as I saw a man leaving confession with the most profound look of peace of his face, I said to myself: I want to bring peace like that to everyone person I meet–and I want to meet everyone. However, my heart grew cold and distracted, I suppose. Perhaps, as I heard it once put in a fiery trad homily on vocations, I literally kissed my vocation away.
Much weight is placed upon our vocational choice regarding happiness in this life and the next. Thus, not only are we expected to follow the exoteric rules, we are also expected to plumb divine secrets and figure out that specialized individual calling–or else.
Perhaps I should have been more open when I was younger to holy orders. I also understand the concern from priests and parents alike that I am remaining a bachelor simply because I find the lifestyle convenient. Perhaps, though, I am not married because I have not been financially secure enough to warrant my pursuit of marriage and family. A few of us chronically seem to avoid getting our shit together until later in life. I am getting to that point, though. Furthermore, I know now what I enjoy doing and must do–write. Yes, I know that writing and holy orders are not mutually exclusive, but I have no desire to write, as would probably be the case, religiously didactic material or bad Catholic fiction for Fatimists.
I would like to think that if a good person (I refuse to say “right,” as that smacks too much of the unsound notion of soulmate) came along, I would be open to self-sacrificial love and children. In fact, that is what I want, and I think that it has taken me this long to get to a point where that is now feasible. Even if that does not work out, is someone who may find himself single yet involved in the life of his family, friends, and community and working on literary pursuits only respectable to the degree that he is willing to consider either religious life or marriage?
I am sure that Protestants and unbelievers have their own respective sets of troubles, but Catholics have the monopoly vocational anxiety.