Thursday, August 7, 2014

Saints are Sharp because Reality has Edges: More on the Vocations Crisis

A person

For each Christian, God has an Idea which fixes his place within the membership of the Church: this Idea is unique and personal, embodying for each his appropriate sanctity ... The Christian's supreme aim is to transform his life into this Idea of himself secreted in God, this "individual law" freely promulgated for him by the pure grace of God.

So says von Balthazar, and I laugh and laugh.  Why?  Because beautiful as this is, there's not a devout Catholic under the age of 40 who has the guts to try it.

The real Vocations Crisis in the Church is the crisis in the vocation to Matrimony, caused by a fundamental misunderstanding in the minds of devout young Catholics, who have somehow gotten the notion that we're not persons, that sanctity consists in mortifying the self - not mortifying selfishness, but mortifying the self itself - or himself or herself.  This, despite the fact that God (Himself) is a person.  In fact, He is three persons.

But many young Catholics I know seem to think that personality is evil, that the ideal saint is, above all other things, bland.  Holiness = blandness = becoming a vague selfless being, and not becoming or remaining a person.  And of course vague selfless beings don't get attracted to particular people; vague selfless beings can practice Agape impersonally and almost accidentally, but can never express Eros, which is always personal and deliberate.

This is true even if we talk about "vocation" as a career path - vocation in the secular sense of the word.  How do you know what you want to be when you grow up?  Because what you're called to be (vocationally speaking) excites you.  And this is a great mystery, for what excites me, what I'm made to do and to be, is part of the "Idea" of myself "secreted in God", as Balthazar says.

But this is troubling!  And challenging!  And Catholic.  And Erotic in the full sense of the word.

And lacking this - lacking this element of Eros in our interpersonal relationships, lacking the courage to commit to the reality of who God made us, we also become unable to evangelize - because we want to play it safe and avoid the sharp edges.  Unreality is blurry.  Reality has edges.

So wake up, Devout Young Catholics!  I know you love God, and even though you might think all my talk lately about Eros and Marriage are just the weird ramblings of a bizarre old man, you and I both know that there's one thing that you do know is your vocation.  You know you are called to evangelize, even if you don't know whether you're called to marriage, the priesthood, the religious life, the single life, or to date that good looking guy or gal who really turns you on but who seems a bit too unpredictable and dangerous.

But here's the irony.  Eunuchs can't evangelize.  You can't play it safe and serve Jesus and His Church.

Here's what Pope Benedict XVI as Cardinal Ratzinger says about St. Paul ...

Paul was effective, not because of brilliant rhetoric and sophisticated strategies, but rather because he exerted himself and left himself vulnerable in the service of the gospel.  The Church even today can convince people only insofar as her ambassadors are ready to let themselves be wounded.

Young devout Catholics, let yourselves be wounded.  Start to care again.  Start to live again.  You are called, as we all are, to love - even to the kind of love that stirs you up and puts you at risk.  Flee the comfort zone.  Trust God who made you who you are.  A person.

“Man cannot fully find himself, except through a sincere gift of himself.”

... and not in destroying himself.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Mr. O'Brien,

You might be interested to know that there are indeed Catholics under 40 who desire what you talk about. I'm one of them (in my early 20s).

In fact, last year I was a Protestant--and one of the major things that led me to the Church was that the Church talks clear-sightedly about these things. It was St. John Paul's Love & Responsibility and The Jeweler's Shop that started it for me.

One major realization along the way was that although we are fallen, we are not (per Calvin) totally depraved: God, in making us holy, makes us more human. The saints, as you say, have sharp edges. And how beautiful it is!

I do not know, yet, what my calling is. I suspect I'll have to be a little more human yet before my sight will be clear enough to see it. But I know that if His Love isn't making a difference in how I live every day and every relationship, I'm not coming any closer to sight. He speaks in the midst of our very particular lives. I can honestly say that the teaching of the Church has saved me (and is perpetually saving me) from the "disempersoned desirelessness" that has long been a temptation for me.

I highly recommend the daily praying of the Ignatian examen for those who want to see how God is leading them in their particular lives and person.