August 6, 2010

Transfiguration and Vocation

I have always been fascinated by the Transfiguration; I find it to be one of the most overtly mystical feasts of the year. As a resurrection appearance before the Resurrection, the Transfiguration reveals that in the Resurrection we are not talking about a historical event per se, but a manifestation of eternity become history. And when Eternity Himself becomes human history, He is revealed as utter Belovedness.

The Transfiguration has also been important to me in my own journey; I count this day as the anniversary of receiving my vocation to religious life. Imagine, then, my wonder when I later calculated that I was born on the second Sunday of Lent, when the Transfiguration is always proclaimed!

It's worth dwelling on for a moment, this idea of 'receiving a vocation,' and why I associate it with a particular day. People often ask questions about these spiritual moments, about how one knows that he has a vocation, or how one is sure about it.

So what do I mean by the moment of 'receiving my vocation?' All I mean is a consent to an internal invitation, a finding of the willingness to risk exploring an attraction and the courage to let other options begin to close in pursuit of it.

The invitation from God, when examined on the natural level, is a sort of attraction. The attraction to religious life can be made up of many parts, some natural and some supernatural, some wholesome and some immature. But in whole mess of 'weeds and wheat,' one experiences something inside that invites a look. On the feast of the Transfiguration in 1993, circumstances--Providence!--had set me up to help me consent to the invitation. I was about to begin my senior year of college, and needed a plan for after graduation. I had spent the summer praying and volunteering with a religious community. On the natural level it was easy for me to consent; I had nothing to lose and needed something to do anyway.

To consent to an attraction to religious life does not mean consenting to the whole vocation of being a religious; this has to be tested and explored. One may discover with delight--on the day of perpetual profession--that this original consent was indeed a consent to a religious vocation, but at the first moments this is not yet known. Many are called to explore religious life for a time without arriving at a final commitment; typically these are not failures or detours, but fruitful moments in particular journeys to other destinations. Religious life is like any relationship of the heart; it proceeds through deepening stages of intimacy according to mounting consent and vulnerability. These moments are institutionalized in the classic stages of religious formation: aspirancy, postulancy, novitiate, temporary profession, perpetual profession.

So if anyone discerning a religious vocation makes her way to this post, all I can say is let go of any interior urges to look for 'signs' or 'certainty.' These are what the flesh seeks because it doesn't want to risk anything for love.

6 comments:

tgshaw said...

Thanks for making the point that trying a religious vocation that doesn't become permanent isn't a "mistake" but a graced moment. I spent a year as a postulant in a Carmelite monastery. As the novitiate approached I, the prioress, and the formation director all discerned that I should leave - not because of anything "bad" but because it wasn't where I belonged. But I wouldn't give up my time there for anything; it's where I really learned to pray. Even 30-some years later there are some things I miss, but I do believe our discernment was led by God. When I think of graced moments that have happened in those 30-some years that wouldn't have happened if I'd stayed in a cloistered community, I wouldn't want to give up them, either. Living in community wasn't for me. I'm now a professed Secular Franciscan (which is why I'm reading a Franciscan blog), and that has been a permanent gift to me.

ben in denver said...

The way you write about recieving a vocation sounds so much like falling in love. There is a moment of attraction, a feeling of vulnerability, a decision to ask the girl out that if full of all sorts of risk, and then a period testing and exploration and development follwed by stages of commitment: going steady, engagement, and marriage.

I can't remeber the exact date when I met my wife. But I remeber the events with clarity. It was in August, but I think it was closer to the 12th or 15th. I want to thank you for this post this morning,because it has brought alive the memory of that day to me, which I had not recalled in quite some time.

In your charity, would you please offer a prayer for my mother Jane today. She turns 65 today; we have had some difficulty in our relationship over the past year and she has lost contact with my sister and her family.

Brother Charles said...

tgs: Thanks for the comment. So often I think we religious make the mistake of imagining our formation programs as only meant for the production of finally professed religious; in the Spirit's many economies, they are used for many other ends as well.

Ben: So, St. Clare and Our Lady's Assumption are special patrons of your marriage (among many others!)

Julia said...

I am drawn to the Transfiguration as well. Plus, I always love to see St Peter. I love him more every time I read any passage with him. :)


How much certainty do you think is required in discernment? I do not mean certainty with regard to the religious vocation in general but with regard to a particular community. How do you know whether to discern further with the community or move on? Thanks in advance for your thoughts, Father.

Brother Charles said...

Julia: That's rather a harder question. I shall try to think about it and post something.

Julia said...

If nothing occurs to you don't worry about it. It's a question I've wondered about before, but I know that with prayer and the opinion/guidance of the vocations director, things have a way of working out.