I haven’t posted here in a bit. I was sent out for a while to do training, but the training was rather poorly planned, so there was an abundance of downtime. I finished four books and read a great deal of T. S. Eliot’s and Francis Thomson’s poetry.
I wasn’t too far from a major city, and I might have enjoyed seeing something of the city, but it wouldn’t have worked out. I would have had to go into town with the other guys and what they want to do and what I want to do are generally incompatible. I didn’t even want to listen to the stories of their evenings out. I didn’t want to listen to the jokes, or be a part of the general atmosphere. There was a certain irony in the fact that, because I was the last one to show up, my cot was right in the middle of the big open bay we were all living in. All around the bay were grown men, running around naked or flashing each other, telling stories about the strippers they hit on the night before, sharing home-made porn clips and x-rated music videos, and acting out some truly sick fantasies with a naked blow-up doll someone bought to put in the Captain’s sleeping bag as a joke. Right in the very center of the whole mess, there I was, lying on my cot, reading the Divine Office and saying my rosary. And that was my comment on the whole affair.
I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t attack the vice more aggressively. I have come a long way from my early days in the Army, when I rather Quixotically took on every single challenge to the faith, my morals, and good manners with reckless abandon. I eventually learned not to be drawn out by every windmill that crossed my path, and consequently got along better with the other guys. I limited my protests to simply walking away from any conversation that turned vile, and answering any questions I was asked. Earning respect as a soldier also helped. I am stronger, smarter and faster than most of my peers, I shoot among the best, and I look like I know what I’m talking about, so they are more likely to tolerate my morals.
But what would I do if I really cared about them? I would be exhausting every effort to warn them of the eternal damage they are doing to their souls. It isn’t so much a question of “Am I going to hell for this?” (I get asked this question pretty often.) The fact is, they are busily constructing hell in their own hearts. I know, I’ve done it. One way or another, every sin shapes my heart a little more into a hell that I carry around with me wherever I go, until God comes in and restores me.
I have been in a questioning mood for some time now, a month, month and a half, something like that. Everyone goes through periods in their life when they question everything. Right now I am questioning every choice I have made, every habit I have formed, every idea I have shaped, all my writing and thinking. There is much that I find to be good. There is much that I find to be wrong-headed, or lazy, or cowardly.
The biggest question I cannot seem to get a handle on is: what do I want to do with my life? At 27 you would think I should have this more or less figured out by now, but I really don’t. I recently read an article in which Peter Kreeft writes about discernment with his characteristic penetrating insight and common sense, and it squares with an idea I am slowly formulating.
It’s a bit comical how Catholics (and in fact, it cuts across all Christian denominations) seem to have made such careers out of “discernment.” It is odd. The concept of “vocation” and “discernment” do not seem to have occupied much of the thought of generations before us. From ages in which young people more or less simply did whatever they had the heart, wits and wherewithal to do, to our present age in which what seems like most of the young people I know spend five to ten years of their late teens and early twenties dithering about between vocational discernment retreats and incessant soul-searching for “God’s will.”
I am beginning to wonder if it is not a tactic of the enemy, in the current phase of the war. I would be interested to see where the concept of “discerning a vocation” came from and how it has evolved over the last 50 years. I suspect it grew out of the need for priests and religious that plagued the Church in the 70’s, 80’s and on through the present day. Certainly the idea of asking God to make His will known and to give us wisdom and courage to follow His will is a worthy goal, but, as Peter Kreeft points out, it can be taken to a ridiculous extreme.
What could be more ironic than hundreds of thousands of Christian young people, so afraid of missing “God’s Will” that they spend the strongest and most energetic years of their lives doing nothing worthwhile except stressing out about their “vocation.”
That is probably what the devil would like to see happen, but fortunately a lot of young adults are more sensible than that. They go out and do things, working in the missions, or in ministries or go to college, and so accomplish good things, but there is a sense of transition to the whole business. I notice a sense of “in the meantime,” or “This will do to be going on with until I find my real vocation.” I am pretty sure I reject the “in the meantime” approach. It has always seemed to me that there is never a moment that doesn’t have its good that can be accomplished, and accomplishing it is my vocation. I used to think the larger decisions flowed out of the smaller decisions, but now I am not so sure.
It is impossible to say precisely what I mean. I don’t have an answer for the riddle I am proposing myself. I rather think that vocation is a cooperation between the individual and God. God gives us the gifts and talents that He has given us and says, “Abide in me and bear fruit that will last.” The precise method He leaves up to us, apart from the occasional special, extraordinary call. Mother Teresa, for instance, had a definite calling. Who knows, perhaps she was able to hear it simply because she had opened herself enough to hear it, and everyone would hear their own call just as clearly if we would only make ourselves as available as she did. Or more likely not, I think. It would seem more in keeping with God’s “style” to leave most people in a little bit of uncertainty. “Abide in me and bear fruit that will last,” seems to be all most people are given. Since we are given everything we need, I am forced to conclude that most people don’t need any more than that.
In the end the only thing I am sure of is that I want to be a Saint. I want to be completely turned over to God, completely abandoned to Him. I think that is the goal of everyone’s life, whether they know it or not. The exact shape that it takes is less important.