Features

On Singleness and Vocation

“Vocation manifests itself as a falling in love. In that love…we recognize [God’s] plan.” –Dorothy Cummings McLean

      One day a couple years back I found myself in a professor’s office crying to him about boys (he was one of those professors that feels like a father—you can’t help spilling your guts to him), and he told me exactly the same thing that Dorothy Cummings’ had argued in her lecture “Waiting For Your Marching Orders”: namely, that I would know I was called to the single life when I fell in love with being single. I responded by telling him that that wasn’t true, for I very often know what I am supposed to do and still do not want to do it. He finally conceded by saying that yes, we see in cases like Jonah’s that sometimes God will call us to do certain things, and we will not want to do them. Cummings is right to say that vocations most often manifest themselves with a falling in love, but sometimes a person learns of his or her vocation and is not pleased with the calling. They, like Jonah, try to run away. I told my professor that I was afraid that someday I might discern my vocation and be sad or angry or frustrated.

      Now, that’s not to say that I don’t think the single life is, in theory, beautiful. I have visited a couple of monasteries, and the visits are always marvelous. The monks and nuns I’ve met are wonderful and dear. Yet whenever I imagine myself donning a habit, shudders run up and down my spine.

      So, here’s the problem: I see myself on a path that I hope leads to glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. At some point, I will reach a decisive point on my path: I will either commit to a life of virginity and marry the Bridegroom Himself, or I will die to another and seek the life of martyrdom in marriage. Both paths have been walked by those who have attained communion with God; both are good, yet presumably one is better for me. Don’t get me wrong—I fully believe that even if I made the “wrong” choice, God would work all things to my good. However, I would like to reach that point and make the decision that will be the clearest path to my own salvation. Moreover, when that point comes, I would love to be at peace with it. I would like to be able to look into the face of God and say honestly, “Thy will be done.”

      Most people faced with this fear of singlehood are convinced that in order to be capable of saying “Thy will be done,” they must pray for a change in disposition. However, I am not convinced that this is what the stories of those who have gone before us—the patriarchs, matriarchs and saints—teach us. Many times in the Old Testament, we read that someone was in a state they did not like, and they wept and were angry and prayed very severe prayers. For instance, we are told that Hannah, because she was barren, was “in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.” She prayed so often and so urgently for a child that the priest in the temple thought she was drunk (1 Samuel 1:10-13, KJV). Christ himself sweated blood, such intensity He experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane as He prayed to the Father to let this cup pass from Him. Very rarely in biblical stories do we see instances of people asking God to help them “be at peace.”

      What I would like to suggest is that perhaps, while we await discernment about our vocation, we should not only pray that God would bring us peace. To be sure, peace is good, and Christ promises that when we take His yoke upon ourselves we “shall find rest unto [our] souls” (Matthew 11:28-30, KJV). However, we must also be willing to accept that this peace may not come in time—not, assumedly, because God did not grant it, but because we were not yet strong enough to accept it. If this happens, it is not peace that we should ask for; it is strength. Peace may come only after the fact, for often one learns to love what is good by and through partaking of that good. We must continue to pray for strength and an increase in virtue so that when we reach the point at which God calls us to the vocation He has chosen for us, we will be able to say “Thy will be done” and mean it—not necessarily because we are happy with the call, but because we have been strengthened by Christ to endure all things even as He endured sufferings for our salvation.

Cummings’ presentation was given at the sixth-annual Edith Stein Project, held Feb. 11-12 at the University of Notre Dame.

Leave a Reply