Thursday, 14 August 2014

So What if She is Gomer? She is my Gomer

With a couple of rare exceptions, most people are perplexed when they hear I am seeking entry into the Society of Jesus. Several people think celibacy is a ridiculous way of life, others have no idea why I would pick religious and priestly life over a secular career in physics (or a career in pretty much anything else, for that matter). By far the most surprised people are the people who see the Jesuits as a heretical, hyper-liberal and liturgically nonsensical order, and know that I am none of these things. Well, maybe I am a heretic, but I do try and avoid being one. Here is my apologia of sorts.

Why would I pick such an apparently dreadful order when I could be something sensible like a Franciscan or a Dominican? In part, it is because neither of those two orders reflect properly my charisms, though I have admiration for both nonetheless. In part also because I think that the Jesuits are considered far worse than those two quite unfairly; this prejudice is not a new, post-conciliar idea, either, as a glance at the Society's history will demonstrate. There has always been an anti-Jesuit myth.

Still, there is a great deal of truth to the post-conciliar Jesuit bashing, one that it would be hard to deny if one is in regular contact with a Jesuit parish. I am very far from saying that all Jesuits are bad priests, or even that I am in substantial disagreement with all of them. Of my favourite books, the top three are written by 20th century Jesuits: Henri de Lubac, Hugo Rahner and Walter Ciszek. I would be lying, however, if I said I could calmly read a book written by a Jesuit in the past fifty years without being consciously on the lookout for error. Although to be fair, I am rather critical of anyone I read, even canonised saints.

In short, the objection people present to me is this: Lobi, you have high standards for liturgy, a no nonsense attitude to theology, you are more interested in truth than in being airy fairy and nice, and even though you do spout the occasional modernist line, you are pretty far in general from the current ethos of the Jesuits. So, why join them, when you could join some better and more suitable order?

The answer is quite simple. I have full assurance that I am called to the Society of Jesus, and hence that I am not called to another order or another state of life. What does it matter if the Jesuits are a horrible order? If it is God's will, that is the end of the discussion. One cannot pick one's vocation as "whatever suits you" - vocation is necessarily where God calls you to be. Now, if you have some theory of discernment which says that somehow one's deepest and holiest desires are where God communicates one's vocation (as St Ignatius Loyola himself does), then by all means, pick whatever is suitable. But one should not confuse the discernment of the call with the call itself. The call of Jesus comes, and the disciple follows, it is really that simple. Just one verse from the Gospel according to St Mark show this:
And as he passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. (Mark 2:13-14)

Some exegetes have tried to imply that there is something between the call and the response, or perhaps some past experience that primes Levi to respond as he does. Surely, they say, nobody would just get up and leave when just presented with a simple "follow me" - without any build up of trust, any prior confidence in this stranger, a conversation separating call and response? Yet such an imposition on the text is a prime example of a crucial error in considering vocations: the idea that there needs to be extensive dialogue between Jesus and oneself, between Master and disciple, before we agree to some conclusion and label that "vocation." That sort of perspective on vocation makes Jesus into a sort of Prime Minister rather than Lord and King, someone that we get to elect rather than someone who we have to accept. We would always get the vocation we wanted, and not in a divine sense, but in a worldly one. It is great when what we want is aligned with what God wants, but when there is tension, one must heed always to the will of God, even in perplexing cases where it seems that even God should want something different. Sometimes our discernment can be marked by pious human wisdom, which leads us to follow what we imagine God would want for us rather than follow what God in actual fact calls us to.

The prophet Hosea's life illustrates this well. Hosea was a northern kingdom prophet who was called to live out in the context of his own marital context the prophecy given to Israel. The call of Hosea is simple:

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord. (Hosea 1:2)

I cannot seem to find a Catholic dating guide that suggests marriage to a harlot is a good idea. Following worldly wisdom for marital discernment would have lead Hosea to picking for himself a wife of better repute. Heck, even following a general sort of Catholic wisdom would lead Hosea to pick a different spouse. But Hosea knew better. He knew that he had to follow the will of God, not his own wisdom, not what he thought God should call him to. So he marries Gomer, an unfaithful woman, and whilst they have children together, Gomer continues to be a harlot.

God gives a reason for why Hosea is called to take a "wife of whoredom", but the reason given is not in any sense an absolute one. There is no logical necessity between Hosea taking Gomer as wife and Israel being unfaithful to God, even if it would make for a good illustration of the nuptial covenant between God and Israel. The call is ultimately senseless to worldly wisdom, but the Lord is not God of worldly wisdom.

Why does God call me to the Jesuits? I have vague ideas about it. I am a missionary at heart, I am adaptable to wherever God wishes to place me, and these make me kin to the authentic Jesuit spirit. I am drawn to Ignatian expressions of spirituality. By the grace of God, I can be equipped to be one of "God's marines." But whether I can figure out why God wants me to pursue entry into the Society or not, this is where he has called me.

I am now more certain of that than ever before. When I first wrote the short essay explaining my discernment process and decision, I had not even been accepted into the Catholic Church, my reception of the sacraments would be months away. It was not quite the complete story when I wrote it, and it is certainly not the whole story now, since I have altered and refined my reasoning. I am completely at peace with celibacy now, I have acquired a more mature desire for liturgy, and as Fr. David Braithwaite, SJ, pointed out in a talk given about a year ago as vocations director for the Society, the development of lay ministry is not fundamentally at odds with more clerical forms of ministry. Whatever tension exists in my mind now between me going to married life or religious life is rather centred on my love of children, something more directly suited to married life. Still, the more I learn and grow, the more certain I become of where God calls me.

Since I have used such harsh words to describe the Society - though not my own, only the accusations of others - it must be the case that I am more resigned to my vocation than happy about it. Quite the contrary. I am entirely at peace, filled with joy, at the prospect of entering the Society. Perhaps this is in part because I do not think that the caricature is largely accurate. More than that, though, I am content to abandon myself to whatever God wants for me. So I go towards the Jesuits not with weariness, but with a happy demeanour, not a forced one either, rather one that wells up from within me. That famous prayer of St Francis of Assisi of which I have a wooden plaque on my wall in front of my desk begins with "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace." Perhaps that great saint had found that he was to be an instrument of peace. As it stands, I cut the prayer even shorter: "Lord, make me an instrument of yours." That is enough for me. Or as Bl. John Henry Newman wrote in his famous hymn "Lead, Kindly Light," words that remind me every time that every vocation is both gift and mystery: "I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me."


  1. "Lord make me an instrument of yours" should be approached with caution. Many have claimed a to be god's instrument when performing atrocities. I'd stick with the longer version and make choices with the brain you've been given.

    1. One should absolutely be cautious as to what exactly one is concluding that God wants somebody to do. But I don't think the alternative is just to live off human wisdom - there's value to that, but it's not absolute. I'd ultimately say it is rational to want to be an instrument of God - assuming, as I do, that God is a good God - since God would by hypothesis know more than me, and so can see where I could best be. To illustrate that, if you think for a moment that God is a utilitarian, then following God's will even in bizarre ways would ultimately maximise utility, and it would solve the epistemic problems inherent in utilitarian theory.

  2. smacks of Fr Corapi!

    1. A moment ago I had never heard of him, but now having looked up his wikipedia page and discovered that he was deemed unfit for priestly service by his superiors for drug abuse, sexual relations with a former prostitute and owning over a million dollars in assets (against his vow of poverty)...I'm not sure that's a good thing.

  3. This was really interesting to read, thank you for sharing. In discerning my vocation, I had a moment of breakthroughat mass. The reading was the parable of the wedding feast when the master sends out the wedding invitations but the guests don't show up because they had to buy a ridiculous number of oxen or scrub the floors or whatever it was.

    It was at the EF mass so I was looking at the Latin and English side-by-side. The English word being used was invite and the Latin word being used was vocare.

  4. Posting in two parts as my iPad is struggling. So I realised that my vocaton is an invitation from God and that it would be rude to turn down this invitation. I don't want to be like the invited wedding guests who thought they had better things to do. What I think God is inviting me to is not necessary what I would pick first...or second either...but it's a custom designed invitation. And I'm always a slow learner with God but He is patient and is winning me over to His plan. So, to think about vocation as an invitation as well as a calling could be helpful for a person as it was for me.

    To feel that supernatural peace you describe is surely fruit that comes from responding to the Holy Spirit. And although you described it is a happy demeanour, the way you said it wells up from within souds like joy, again one of the fruits.

    1. I used joy elsewhere, but I really did mean happy there. It is not a requisite to be happy about one's vocation, although underlying joy, fruit of feelings of consolation, will often come with it. But happiness comes from happenstance, and I would really say I am *happy* about it.

  5. Last week I met a Jesuit priest who was very reverent and serious about the liturgy, He was also very devoted to Mary. There is hope for them yet. God sometimes calls us to be that hope where there is no hope. Recently, I was very upset with God for being in parish that has very little reverence and attention to the Eucharist. I said "Why do I have to be in this place?" "It's so empty" On the feast day of St John Vianney, I read his bishop told him: "I'm putting you where there is no love" That has been stuck in my head ever since. This blog article made me think of it again. Best of luck and blessings in your discernment!

  6. one of the brothers of my grandfather was a Jesuit priest who was a saintly man. (He died in 2012)