"Tell Me Where Is [Silence] Bred, Or in the Heart Or in the Head

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from The Merchant of Venus
William Shakespeare

Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?
Reply, reply.
It is engender’d in the eyes,
With gazing fed; and fancy dies
In the cradle, where it lies.
Let us all ring fancy’s knell;
I’ll begin it – Ding, dong, bell.

Ding, dong, bell.

I stumbled onto this blog this morning, and I was painfully reminded of a moment in the past that I have thought, at last, to share to help those who are discerning a vocation.

Shortly after I became Catholic, or it could have been in the course of planning to become Catholic the timeline is a bit fuzzy, I conceived the idea of becoming a Trappist Monk. I was inspired by Thomas Merton's work and by a poet friend who had recently become a Franciscan.

This desire for silence and retirement grew and grew within me. At the time I neither understood vocation nor did I have anyone to help me in the discernment process. There were a great many pressures in my life and contemplative silence was very appealing.

Ultimately, as noted by the fact that I have a wife and a child, I decided not to pursue this daydream. And every once in a while I wonder whether I took the right path. That is not to say that I am in the least unhappy in my present life. But sometimes things are seen in just the right slant of light and I have a sharp, sudden, poignant pain--a powerful reminder of what I gave up to pursue my present path. Once again, I reiterate, this is a good life, a life God has graced and blessed, but one cannot help but wonder.

What ultimately decided me in my path? Remember I was either becoming Catholic or just new to the faith. I had no one to help me decide. I was young and feeling pressure from every side. When I thought about retiring to a monastery, there was peace and calm and perfect happiness. Eventually I convinced myself that I had invented this monastery to give myself peace and calm--that no monastery would really be any such thing. This was the equivalent of imagining Caribbean blue water and waves on the shore. It was a momentary calming thing. I decided that the monastery did not represent fleeing into the arms of God, but fleeing away from the world. These are two very different motives for entering a monastery. One is noble and correct, the other perhaps less so. But now, in looking back, I wonder whether the less noble motive wasn't a stronger motivator. That is, still being formed, perhaps God spoke to me in a way that I could understand. His hand may have been extended offering peace in which I would eventually grow to love him.

Those are past regrets. They occasionally re-emerge to remind me of what is now no longer possible. This is my "road less travelled." And practically the only one I ever wonder about. I don't know if my decision at the time was right. However, what I can say definitively is that God honored that decision--He didn't make the rest of my life a living Hell for not hearing His call (if that is what it was). He continued to guide me and be with me and lead me to my present place---a very different place from the monastery.

This is not to say that one should take lightly any of these decisions, but that one should not walk the path alone. Look for a good guide, a good spiritual director who will help you discern vocation. Particularly is you are young and considering vocation, don't think you can or should do it all yourself. Find someone to help you discern the path

People who are Catholic from birth may have an easier time with this than I did, I don't know. But whoever you are, however you are raised, find help and defining your calling. It never hurts to test the spirits and to see which way you are being led. And know that whatever you choose, God will be with you. It isn't one strike and you're out. In fact, it may not even be a strike at all. Outside of sin and defiance, I have come to believe that God's plan and purpose for your life is infinitely adjustable; He only asks that when making the decision you consult Him. Often we sweat bullets over which is the "right path" to take, and sometimes I think there are a great many "right paths." So long as God is first in our lives, He can use all of our decisions to His greater glory. So always pray and discern and listen. Then, if you don't feel or hear any strong persuasion one way or the other, make your choice and wait to see God's working in your life.

Oh, and as to the epigraph. I am not in the monastery. But the call to interior silence is every bit as great as it was. And the call comes now not from the outside, from my thoughts and my stress, but from the inside, from a heart longing to love and to please God. May the heart longing to please God always be your guide into His paths.

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on vocation from Fructus Ventris on March 21, 2004 7:48 AM

read what Steven ofFlos Carmeli has to say.... Read More


"Outside of sin and defiance, I have come to believe that God's plan and purpose for your life is infinitely adjustable; He only asks that when making the decision you consult Him. Often we sweat bullets over which is the "right path" to take, and sometimes I think there are a great many "right paths." So long as God is first in our lives, He can use all of our decisions to His greater glory. "

Oh, so true!

Sometimes God likes to wave His charisms around so His other children can see; as Tom said in his post about the schoolkids, he wanted them to see that some adult who WASN'T A PRIEST cared actively about his faith!

And let's not forget the road to personal sanctification: how I wish I could have been a hermit! People get on my nerves!

But God put a chink in my armor--I'm the type who needed the structure of marriage. So I struggle--more often probably than many--and I offer it up to God, as if I'm on a sanctification Stairmaster!

Like carrying a cross, I look at it as eschewing my SPIRITUAL consolations. Those are often the last to go--it's tempting to think that mere devotional preferences are God Himself.

And, when trials are offered up often enough, eventually one becomes like Paul: "content in all circumstances."

Now off to the McDonalds Playland with my two youngest! :-/

I understand well the desire for the cloistered life. It presented a temptation to me when I first converted. I still look upon the cloistered religious life with profound respect (and even a twinge of longing). But I use the word "temptation" deliberately. "The grass is always greener..."

The purpose of our lives is the perfection of our souls--and perfection often does not come without suffering and self-sacrifice. St. Therese said that as soon as she entered Carmel, "suffering opened up her arms and embraced me." The same goes for St. Faustina. Where they should have found family and community, they often found backbiting, injury, and even malice. It was precisely through these trials that God sanctified these saints. We experience no different as married people living in the world. The cloistered life will not erase these trials; in fact, I've a feeling they would only increase, especially if God calls us to a high degree of holiness.

I try to make the most of every opportunity for sanctification that God sends me. This often includes loving my family when it's the last thing I want to do. But how delighted God is when the soul struggles valiantly against temptations to anger and bitterness and pride! And this struggle will be required of all of us, cloistered religious or secular.

it has finally become obvious that my misanthropic tendencies necessitate many, many people (including many children) on my path to holiness. lift high the cross . . .

In The Cloud of Unknowing, the author warns that finding the stuff fascinating is not proof that you have a vocation to it.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on March 20, 2004 8:33 AM.

Prayer Reminder was the previous entry in this blog.

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