I have been thinking for some time about a post concerning vocations. Friday, Tom at Disputations, posted an notable entry about the meaning of a Dominican vocation, particularly as related to being a third-order Dominican. Interestingly enough he made the point that the charism of preaching is a charism of the Order as a whole which is supported, emphasized, and perhaps recharacterized by the individual appearances of that vocation. I have no intention of discussing the Carmelite vocation or charism at length, but suffice to say that while there is a single vocation--contemplative prayer, its expression and enunciation differ in a great many ways. No two contemplatives are exactly alike. However, every single Carmelite IS called to be a contemplative. I don't know if this marks a similarity or a difference with what Tom had suggested.

The point I wanted to make about vocation is that everyone has one. It may not be the traditionally recognized vocation to Priesthood, Religious Life, or Third Orders, but everyone is summoned by God to absolute holiness of life and the track of that summons, the path of that vocation, is laid out by God alone. No two people walk the same trail; no two people carry precisely the same cross; all people are made Holy by God's action and by grace, but no two people obtain the same graces, have the same talents, or exercise their abilities in precisely the same way.

This idea is prelude to another, which is more difficult to express. The second notion is that while no two people are called to the same exact track, there are practices, disciplines, and ways of living that are necessary for all people who wish to obtain holiness. For example, attendance at the sacraments and disposing oneself to God's prevenient Grace are necessary components to a Holy Life. Familiarity with and even immersion in the Scriptures ("Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ") a necessary component. One aspect of this immersion, which has been frequently discussed is Lectio Divina. A certain amount of Lectio is useful for every person. However, Lectio as a gateway to contemplation is part of the Carmelite charism (and perhaps the charism of other orders), it is not a universal gateway, and it may not be the most effective practice of prayer for all people. Therefore, we also have bible study and bible-based prayers such as the Liturgy of the Word at Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. All of these are ways of exposing oneself to scripture; however, it seems that effort beyond that of attending Mass is often extremely helpful to individuals in their attempts to become holy.

Each person needs to be acutely sensitive to what they are called to within their vocations. For example, St. Thérèse was a Carmelite, but she understood that as the BEGINNING of her vocation. Eventually she discovered her vocation to "be LOVE at the heart of the Church." What St. Thérèse revealed to us in those words is that vocation is not so simple as the surface might indicate. She did not reveal a new vocation, but a new understanding of vocation, and a new understanding of how vocation grows, develops, and changes as one becomes more intimate and familiar with God.

Each person needs to be sensitive to what God calls her or him to. To share an example from my own life--I know that I am NOT called to huge penances or mortifications. When I read about them in the lives of other saints, I'm immediately struck by the apparent psychiatric manifestations they propose. I correct those thoughts with the understanding that God speaks each vocation, and I am obviously not in a place to understand that path to holiness. As a result, I find no affinity whatsoever with some very, very holy people--St. Francis, St. Rose of Lima, and others. That isn't to say anything against these holy people, only that my own path is not marked that way, and this is part of the way I can discern that.

On the other hand, I have always hungered for the desert experience of God. I have always wanted to be with Him and not talk to Him, but simply sit in the loving presence. Anyone who describes anything like this experience is immediately appealing to me. There is greater appeal (for me) in those more firmly grounded in reality. I find St. Teresa of Avila wonderfully refreshing among mystics for her down-to-Earth practicality, "If you think you are having visions, perhaps you ought to eat more." This is the spiritual reality I desire--one firmly grounded in what we experience day to day, but still reaching out for the Cause of that reality.

Pay attention to these leanings and preferences. They are important signposts. But don't hold to them rigidly. For the longest time I avoided St. Thérèse like the plague. The mere thought of that simpering, sweet, sickly, little French girl just about caused treacle nausea. God has worked with me and brought me to a new understanding, appreciation, and love of this great Saint--she is now a mainstay of my spirituality. In short, I love her in a way that I love few others (La Madre and St. John of the Cross are in this select company. If I am to be brutally honest, the Blessed Mother still is not, but God has been leading me that way for a long time, and I trust Him entirely in allowing this to grow organically as it were.) Already, I've told you too much about me, but I simply want to present an example--not good or bad, but demonstrative of God's ability to conform us to His will and His vocation for us if we are willing. It's rather like the obverse of Jesus famous statement--"I will, be healed." It's as though God says to us, "If you are willing, I can heal you." And we respond, "I'm willing, heal me." That is the path of vocation. As Tom said, very wisely, and apropos of every vocation--when you've talked to one Dominican, you've talked to one Dominican. True for every person who seeks holiness by the paths God has laid out for them. Speak to any one of them and you will find a unique vocation. There will be elements of similarity in all vocations, but the distinct flavor, the distinct representation, the distinct expression of that vocation will be unique--no one else will gather together precisely the same elements and weave them in exactly the same way. As God created each of us unique and distinct from all others, so He knows with absolute surety the way each must walk to conform to holiness. And He will show that way for each of us if we are willing to listen and learn.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on March 14, 2006 9:13 AM.

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